maandag 24 augustus 2015

Frank Okker's Rouffaer

Gerret Rouffaer (1860-1928) was born too late: he had some money, enough to live in a modest way without problems of the necessity to find a job. He had extremely many interests and could follow his personal emotions. He first started a study of science in Delft, but after two years began the great journey to see the art of France, Spain and foremost Italy. After an illness of some five years. He developed a crazy admiration for Eduard Douwes Dekker, who had written under his penn-name Multatuli the novel Max Havelaar. He also gave a big amount of his money to the great writer. Therefore Rouffaer also made his first trip to the Dutch East Indies, 1885-1890. He learned Malay, some Javanese, worked on archaeology, on adat law (organization of farmers, studies about land ownership). Again he fell ill, and recovered only in the later 1890s when he became active in the small research institute for colonial affairs, KITLV, at that time in The Hague. His first big work was the catalogue of KITLV, nicely printed as a fat book and the basis for the immense collection which has since then been the heart of this research centre,
Rouffaer (right) june 1909 in Batavia, Hotel des Indes, with mining engeneer C. Moerman

 Rouffaer wrote some articles, a book on batik (published in 1914) and left again for the Dutch colony, 1908-1911. This time, after again trips in Java, he concentrated on the southeastern islands, Floresw, Timor, fell ill again in Batavgia, but made a trip to the Philippines.
Frank Okker wrote a book on this important universal scholar who also was one of the initators of the Linschoten-vereniging, the Dutch equivalent of the Haklyut Society, a series of publications of the travels of the Dutch explorers, mostly in the VOC period.

Rouffaer was a universalist: wanted to know everything, collected biology, archaeology, linguistics, history. Both in his writings and in the biography by Frank Okker, he is more a collector than a writer, more enthusiast about all kind of material that could be found than someone who could build an image of the past. Also his  enthusiasm for the social programme of Douwes Dekker, as well as his philosophy, is not elaborated in the book. So, he remains the great organising genius, without a product that can stand the time, besides the vitality of KITLV as a research centre.

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