Rob Nieuwenhuys

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Rob Nieuwenhuys
Rob Nieuwenhuijs (c.1940)
BornRobert Nieuwenhuijs
(1908-06-30)30 June 1908
Semarang, Dutch East Indies
Died8 November 1999(1999-11-08) (aged 91)
Amsterdam, Netherlands
OccupationWriter, author, journalist, historian

Robert Nieuwenhuys (Semarang, Dutch East Indies, 30 June 1908 – Amsterdam, 8 November 1999) was a Dutch writer of Indo descent. The son of a 'Totok' Dutchman and an Indo-European mother, he and his younger brother Roelof, grew up in Batavia, where his father was the managing director of the renowned Hotel des Indes.


His Indies childhood profoundly influenced his life and work. His Javanese nanny 'nènèk' (English: grandma) Tidjah and particularly his Eurasian mother created the benchmarks of his childhood environment. In his award winning book Oost-Indische spiegel, he states: "If I write about my childhood, I write about her world." and "My Indies youth was critical to my receptiveness to particular cultural patterns. It ingrained a relationship with Indonesia that is irreplaceable."

Nieuwenhuys is the Nestor of Dutch Indies literature.


In 1927 he (and his brother) moved to the Netherlands and enrolled in the University of Leiden, but he abhorred academic life and never completed his study at the Faculty of Arts. [1] He did however become acquainted with Indonesian nationalists studying in the Netherlands and adopted anti-colonial convictions. [2]

In 1935 he returned to the Dutch East Indies and befriended his mentor, the iconic Indo writer E. du Perron. Perron influenced him to study the literary work of P.A. Daum and upcoming writer Beb Vuyk. He joined anti-colonial magazines as a writer, researcher and critic.

In 1941 he was a conscript medic in the KNIL and from 1942 to 1945 a Japanese POW. In the Japanese concentration camp Tjimahi he was part of a small group of intellectuals, including Leo Vroman and the iconic Tjalie Robinson, that for a while was able to print a camp periodical named 'Kampkroniek' (Camp Chronicles) and a pamphlet named 'Onschendbaar Domein' (Inviolable Domain). [3]

From 1945–1947 he stayed in the Netherlands to recuperate from the war and evaded the violence of the Bersiap period.

In 1947 he returned to his land of birth during the continuing Indonesian revolution and set up a cultural and literary magazine in an attempt to mitigate the Dutch-Indonesian alienation via art and literature. Although Indonesian intellectuals and artists were receptive to this unique forum political developments and strong anti-Dutch sentiments surpassed all good intentions. In 1952, 4 years into Indonesian independence, Nieuwenhuys repatriated to the Netherlands. [4]

In the Netherlands Nieuwenhuys became a teacher and pursued a literary career. He became a highly influential literary scholar and author and won numerous awards throughout his career, among them the 1983 Constantijn Huygens Prize.

Nieuwenhuys' magnum opus is the authoritative literary classic Mirror of the Indies: A History of Dutch Colonial Literature (Original Dutch: Oost-Indische spiegel), the main reference book regarding Dutch Indies literature [5] [6]



'Mirror of the Indies: A History of Dutch Colonial Literature' translated from Dutch by E. M. Beekman (Publisher: Periplus, 1999) Book review.

See also

Other Indo authors

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Nieuwenhuys, Rob Mirror of the Indies: A History of Dutch Colonial Literature translated from Dutch by E. M. Beekman (Publisher: Periplus, 1999)

Notes and citations

  1. Visser, Hans 'Indië in Holland. Nederlandse schrijvers over hun rijk van Insulinde.' (1991) P.17-18
  2. ING (Institute for Dutch History) – Biography overview, 2008.
  3. This group consisted of Reverend Selms, Bernard van Tijn, Kurt Binners (politician), Henk Vis (painter), Leo Vroman (poet) and Tjalie Robinson(author). See: Buikema, Rosemarie and Meijer, Maaike (red.), Cultuur en migratie in Nederland. Kunsten in beweging 1900–1980 (Publisher: Sdu Uitgevers, The Hague, 2003) See DBNL:
  4. ING (Institute for Dutch History) – Biography overview, 2008.
  5. Maria Dermout Website. See bottom note 6.
  6. Nieuwenhuys, Rob Mirror of the Indies: A History of Dutch Colonial Literature – translated from Dutch by E. M. Beekman (Publisher: Periplus, 1999)