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The Ranchi Babies

On the way from Indonesia to the Netherlands, 37 babies are born on steamship Ranchi. It is 1950: Indonesia has just gained independence. KNIL soldiers and their families had to leave the country in a hurry by ship. They had often lived in the colony of the Dutch East Indies for generations and many of them had never been to the Netherlands. In the podcast The Ranchi Babies – a colonial legacy, Joost Wilgenhof tracks down all the ‘Ranchi Babies’; they are now in their seventies. He delves into their family history and the fraught colonial legacy their parents gave them. What are they stuck with?


Wilgenhof also follows historian Esther Captain, who was commissioned by the Dutch government to help research Independence, decolonisation, violence and war in Indonesia. Esther finds herself caught up in a debate resembling trench warfare and confronted with her family history.


Passengers steamship Ranchi, including ‘Ranchi Babies’ and their relatives with Indian, Javanese and German-Chinese backgrounds, among others

Genesis, objective and/or main question: The project started with the discovery of a photograph of the arrival of the steamship Ranchi, departing for the Netherlands from Indonesia in August 1950. Passengers are KNIL soldiers with their families. After a month, the ship arrives in Amsterdam. In the meantime, 37 babies have been born. An exhibition at Museum Perron Oost (Amsterdam) (with partner International Institute of Social History (IISG)) prompted documentary maker Joost Wilgenhof to go in search of these ‘Ranchi babies’. He made five audio portraits that have been published on Museum Perron Oost’s website. He then worked on a six-part podcast series. The podcast is a production of Stichting Autres Directions and Aldus’ for NTR and NPO Radio 1 and co-sponsored by the NPO Fund and the Fonds Bijzondere Journalistieke Projecten.


The main questions are: How did your parents end up in Indonesia and what do you know about it? How did it affect the family? How did the family fare in the Netherlands? What stories did you get from your parents and how do you deal with them? Photos were also issued for some interviews. Joost Wilgenhof continues to search for descendants of the ‘Ranchi Babies’, including the third generation. In addition to the audio portraits and podcast series, he is working on a book of stories from those involved.

The interviews focus on events and experiences in the 1920s – present.
They mainly focus on Indonesia and the Netherlands. Themes include World War II, Indonesian revolution, migration to the Netherlands, migration to the United States, colonial legacy.


Management: The collection is managed by Joost Wilgenhof. He wishes to transfer the interviews to an archive such as the IISH in the future.

Accessibility: The collection has limited public access. The rights for use lie partly with Joost Wilgenhof, partly with the producer of the podcast. If interested, please contact Autre Directions Foundation:


Preservation: The collection has been digitised. To preserve the digital files permanently for the future, transfer to an e-depot is desirable.