Ruling Overseas: Connected Practices of Governance and Law

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:50 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton)
Karwan Fatah-Black, Leiden University
This paper asks how Dutch overseas legal practices were implemented, adapted and negotiated to govern diversity in the colonial empire? Although race was not a legal category in the Dutch Republic, governing councils and courts overseas contentiously included racial difference in local bylaws and when administering justice. This paper will uncover the normative principles that guided issuing of metropolitan laws concerning the colonies, how these laws were implemented, adapted and negotiated locally. It will further explore the conflicting frameworks (loopholes and contradictions) ruling over colonial spaces and peoples caused by the differences between metropolitan laws and local bylaws. Legal scholars have made great headway in compiling the collections of ordinances and bylaws that were passed by local courts in the settlements of the Dutch empire. There has however not been any attempt at understanding the developments in the various colonies in comparative perspective, and not through the lens of communitarian autonomy and diversities in status among inhabitants of the Dutch settlements. Correspondence between metropolitan governing bodies, chambers of the various companies, suggests that there was exchange between the various settlements of the empire and the legal questions that arose within them. From a legal perspective the practices of legal plurality will inform the creation of one of the most resilient aspects of diversity in Dutch overseas settlements in east and west. The source material for this paper are the plakaatboeken of the settlements under Dutch rule as well as the data collected on the practices of the law as they were enacted in local court cases.