Mutual Cultural Heritage

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Mutual Cultural Heritage (or 'Gemeenschappelijk Cultureel Ergoed' as called in the Netherlands, GCE) is a policy term used by the Dutch government. The terminology of ‘mutual’ is now most often used by the Netherlands to determine heritage that has a Dutch origin. The Dutch government finds mutual cultural heritage (MCH) important because it helps the Dutch gain a better understanding of their own history and how it intertwined with a number of countries. In addition, the Dutch government sees MCH as an excellent chance to strengthen and reaffirm bilateral relations between the Netherlands and the priority countries.

Short introduction about Mutual Cultural Heritage & Dutch Policy.

Over the centuries, the predecessor of the Netherlands, the Dutch Republic, has developed close ties with many countries. It started with the expansion of global trade. This ambition resulted in the founding of the first privately owned companies in the world, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602 and the Dutch West India Company (WIC) in 1621. These enterprises evolved from, or started in, trading posts at many locations in both the eastern and western hemispheres. In some cases, Dutch influence went beyond trading, and several countries were colonised. The former Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), South Africa and Suriname were colonies until 1945, 1806 and 1975, respectively. The colonisation process resulted in a great deal of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, collectively referred to as ‘Mutual Cultural Heritage’ (MCH).

The Dutch government has developed a policy on MCH in its relationships with ten priority countries. These countries are Australia Brazil, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Russian Federation, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Suriname and United States but there are many more countries with which the Netherlands shares cultural heritage.


MCH is an inherent result of migration. Dutch ‘interventions’ created many migration streams, starting with Europeans who set off to search for Asia and the Americas in the 16th century. Other migration flows followed, resulting from the slave trade between Africa and the Americas, but also to and within Asia, contract labour in both Asia and South America and banishment.

The legacy of these migration flows is cultural heritage. The legacy can be both tangible as well as intangible heritage. Tangible heritage comprises archives, shipwrecks, monuments, sites, cultural landscapes, as well as plantations and city structures, whilst intangible heritage comprises stories, names, rituals, music, traditions and language.

As a result of these migration flows, MCH is inherently multilateral. Most continents are connected to all of the others through these migration flows. These ties make MCH an interesting topic to discuss, research, access and present. Examples are the contract laborers who traveled in the 19th century from Java (Indonesia), to Suriname and then back to Java or to the Netherlands in the 20th century. Jewish communities that migrated to the Dutch Republic in the 17th century traveled to Brazil and went on to Suriname, the Antilles and the United States.

Because so many countries are involved in MCH, its interpretations may vary widely, particularly since MCH is often the result of one people oppressing another in the form of slavery, contract labour, indentured labour and banishment. One issue is which people can claim the heritage that is the subject of the discussion, which means that differing opinions about the MCH enrich it by incorporating multiple perceptions into the discussion.

What kind of MCH?

MCH embraces both tangible heritage, such as archives, and intangible heritage. The largest Dutch East India Company archive is kept in the National Archive of Indonesia, for example. Forts are everywhere along the shores around the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Towns such as Recife, Colombo and Cape Town have similar town planning and cultural landscapes because they were based around plantations and similar establishments. Intangible MCH components include stories like those of the African Anansi, which have similar counterparts in South America, as well as traditions in music, dance, clothing, oral history and language.

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