In 1699 the population of Batavia consisted of 3679 Chinese, 2407 Mardjikers or Portuguese Eurasians, 1,783 Dutch, 670 Dutch Eurasians and the original inhabitants or Orang Betawi.
These Portuguese Eurasians had been brought to Batavia as slaves or indentured labour after the Dutch East India Company (VOC) captured Malacca and Galle from the Portuguese in 1640. They became a vital part of the VOC workforce as labourers, artisans, clerks and soldiers.
However, the presence of Christian slaves in Batavia became an ethical dilemma for the Dutch Reform Church and in 1661 they were freed and granted land outside Batavia on the condition that they convert from Catholicism and they became known as the Mardijkers or Freedmen.
The Mardijkers were granted land at Kampong Tugu (Toegoe) which is now near the port area of Tanjung Priok. At that time 150 Mardijkers moved to this area and after three centuries there is still a community living there. They have retained their original identity over this time and their land contains their own church, graveyard, schools, community centre and cultural centre.
A search of the cemetery shows the family names of Michiels, Qiuko, Thomas, Corua and Abrahams are prominent. The most successful of the Mardijkers was Augustin Michiels who became commander of the indigenous militia and a wealthy landlord.
After 350 years the Mardijkers of Kampung Tugu are still proud of their identity and the photo shows one of the Michiels family wearing a T-shirt showing the Portuguese shield and the breaking of the chains of slavery in 1661.
The original wooden church built in Kampong Tugu after 1661, burnt down and was rebuilt in stone, this was renovated in 2007 and is now designated as an historic landmark by the city of Jakarta.
The Mardijkers have kept their musical tradition alive until today through the small ukulele style instrument known as the keroncong. It is this instrument that has given its name to their music which is derived from old Portuguese folk songs influenced by the music of North Africa and known as Portuguese Mouresco. Originally played by street musicians the music gained wider acceptance during the Dutch colonial period when it was played together with a violin, guitar, bass, tambourine and flute. It evolved to include Dutch and Indonesian songs and the Krontjong Toegoe band has performed in Holland where the song ‘Oud Batavia’ brings tears of nostalgia to a generation of Hollanders who still remember the old times or the ‘tempo doeloe’ in Indonesia.
The Mardijkers celebrate the New Year with great gusto in an event called Mande-Mande, whose origins probably belong in India or Sri Lanka, which includes the custom of smearing each others faces with a mixture of water and face powder.