Each time when I am in the Netherlands, I visit Bunschoten, the village where my father was born. The history of this village, situated in the central part of Holland, dates back to the 12th century. Bunschoten was a village of well-off farmers, while the nearby village of Spakenburg flourished by fishing and trading. Its rather isolated position on an inland saltwater sea connected to the North Sea was ideal for a wind-powered fishing fleet. But things radically changed by the construction of the dike between the North Sea and the former Zuiderzee.
As a child, I loved to spend my school holidays at my grandfather’s cow farm. My father’s family was ultra-religious and very conservative. Women were dressed in their traditional costumes and my grandmother and aunt spent a lot of time each morning in putting on these complicated historical clothes, using a lot of safety pins, hooks and bars. The most iconic part of this costume was the ”kraplap”. A kraplap is a starched rectangle of fabric with a hole in the middle, which is put over the head. It is worn together with two pieces of checkered fabric, white stripes on red. (photo 1). In Bunschoten, women used to roll up their hair over a hair-rat and then wear it in a bun underneath a starched white lace cap (photo 7) – a very complicated procedure!
My grandfather was very proud of his 17th-century family Bible – each day he read (aloud) a complete bible chapter after dinner. I remember how hard it was for me to stay quiet for those twenty minutes or even more… Sundays were strictly observed as days of obligation to the Lord. All people went to church two or three times, all establishments were closed and even the local football games were held on Saturdays.
I still cherish a lot of beautiful memories from those times. Unfortunately, the old farm was demolished, as the land was needed for the construction of a new factory. From the whole family, only my aunt Jannetje is still alive (photo 2) and I regularly visit her in the old age home in Spakenburg, where she has been living for the last five years. She is 95 years old, completely blind and physically very weak, but she is still in a good mood. She never complains and she is grateful to God for the good life she had.
Bunschoten and Spakenburg have now developed into one community, with a present population of 20,000, which still clings to age-old traditions. Many elder women (around 500) still wear their traditional costumes on a daily basis; however, it is estimated that the costume will disappear from daily life within the next 10 years.
That is the reason why I was glad to have the opportunity to attend the Spakenburg Fishery Day this year, which is organized each first Saturday of September. This is a day when the community „goes back in time“. Many inhabitants – also young people and children – are dressed in traditional costumes and the wooden fishing boats („botters“) moor in the harbour, with their sails hoisted (photo 3). The inhabitants are glad to show every aspect of their traditional life: handicrafts like manufacturing of fishing nets, smoking herring, mackrel and eel (photo 4), preparing special brandy with raisins or apple puree (photo 5) – everything is on display for the numerous visitors and tourists. The products are often paid by a „donation“ to the church or a charity organization.
Walking around, I had the feeling as if I could travel through time and be a child again, helping my aunt to hang the traditional clothes on the clothesline in the courtyard. She used a twisted rope, simply tucked the edges of the clothes between the strands and let tension, created by a wooden rod, hold it in place (photo 6). I tasted the local butter cake, called “Spakenburgs’ hart” (Spakenburg’s Heart), which was (and still is) always served at birthday parties. And of course, I enjoyed the salted herring and smoked eel!