KOCHI: The Netherlands’ initiative to preserve the Dutch records in its former colonies comes as a boon to the Kerala State Archives’ Ernakulam regional office which is a treasure house of documents as old as AD 800. Though the initiative to digitise the documents in the Ernakulam office, which was started in 2009, is yet to be completed, the Netherlands’ cooperation with Kerala will help the authorities preserve and digitise at least Dutch records now.
In 2014, The National Archives of the Netherlands and Tamil Nadu State Archives collaborated in the preservation and digitisation of Dutch records in the repository of the archives of the neighbouring state. Last year, the Netherlands decided to have a similar cooperation with the Kerala government.
Kochi was the colony of VOC (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie), also known as the Dutch East India Company, and it has several documents as old as 1663. “One of the key components of the cooperation is the digitisation of Dutch records from the collection from the Regional Archives, Ernakulam. Two archivists from Kerala were sent to the National Archives in the Hague to learn about Dutch digitisation of archives last year. A delegation is expected to arrive in Kochi as part of the digitisation of Dutch documents. After the digitisation, the documents will be shared between the archives in Kerala and the Netherlands,” an official with the State Archives Department said. The Regional Archives, Ernakulam, maintains Malayalam records containing correspondences between the King of Cochin and VOC, the Dutch Judicial Council’s verdicts in murder cases, the declaration made in the presence of commander Baren Ketel by the 72 lords of Korappuran related to their relations with the King of Cochin from 1710 and a letter from Governor-General Willerp van Oudtshoorn to the King of Cochin in 1700.
The records related to Paliyathu Achan, Chief Minister of the Kings of Cochin, include a contract with VOC and translations of Dutch letters from Governor-General Ogandika and one Issah Gorsin. There are also Konkani records from Konkani Brahmins in Cochin and concerning their relations with VOC. All these collections mostly consist of paper records.
The Regional Archives, Ernakulam, also keeps palm leaf records containing treatises between Cochin and VOC. Besides, there are several copper plates of which five record the Dutch-Cochin treaty of alliance in 1663. A replica of the copper plate was gifted to Dutch King Willem Alexander on his visit to Kerala in October 2019. However, one of the major concerns is that the Dutch National Archives digitises records with advanced machinery, but such equipment are not available with neither the State Archives in Thiruvananthapuram and Regional Archives in Ernakulam.
“The digitisation of records in the Regional Archives started in 2009 but only 30 per cent of the work could be completed till now. The work is being carried out by C-DIT without any expertise in handling sensitive documents. In the Netherlands, the documents are preserved with special arrangements by controlling moisture content. Interestingly, the Regional Archives in Ernakulam is located close to the salt lake which affects the lifespan of the records. We have around 4,000 volumes of documents here,” an official said.