Anthropology of the Dutch: The people from Ameland


Among all the nations
and people I visited… I never met a stranger breed
than the Dutch. Not just one people, but a tombola of
cultures, clubs and groups. With strange tribes
and exotic communities. Like the classical ethnologists
before me, I will visit them… measure them… dissect and scrutinize them. I’m going on safari in my own country,
in search of the jungle within us. You can call me the Pigeonhole Man. Looking for the Amelanders. What do they eat? Do they keep up with the times? How much do they like the tourists? And what do they get up to
when the tourists are gone? The Amelanders live on a mysterious
island on the edge of our nation. To reach their domain, the stranger has
to cross the territory of the Friesians. The last occupied place on this trek
is the village of Holwerd. The book Dutch National Characters
from 1938 describes Friesians like this: They don’t talk much, but when
they do, they’re not very cautious. Friesians dare to accept the risk
of their own opinion. So they also have an opinion
about the Amelander. Do you know Ameland a little?
– A little. How would you describe them
as a people? Are they Friesians? They are, but they don’t think
they’re Friesians. It’s so extreme that,
when you’re at an outdoor café… …and the staff is Friesian,
from the mainland… …they can’t talk Friesian
to their own Friesian friends. They have to talk Dutch to them. They don’t teach Friesian in schools
there, like on the mainland. But it’s part of Friesland Province?
– Yes, it is. But isn’t Friesian obligatory?
– Not on Ameland. Ever see Amelanders here?
– No, never. Really?
– Occasionally one drops by. You like to go there?
– Yes, I’m a mud flats guide. But I go there purely for the wading,
and enjoying the beach. Then I take a taxi
and the first boat back. Do you have any tips?
Things I shouldn’t do? If you go at St. Nicholas, be careful.
– Be careful? It’s a festival for islanders,
not for outsiders. Why not? They don’t belong.
– Don’t belong? No, it’s purely for the islanders. But it has nothing to do
with St. Nicholas Day as we know it. If you stay at a hotel,
don’t leave it that day. There’s a story about a girl
whose head they shaved. Another girl was thrown
in the slurry pit. Why?
– They’re not allowed on the street. Sorry, but this is hard to imagine.
– It’s true. It’s really true?
– It’s really true. I’ll take you across, the guide says,
but then I’ll turn back. I love the mud flats, but not the island. We have to keep going,
it’s getting cold. We have to keep warm. The Great Dike, no, Deek,
has cut the island in half for 200 years. If an Amelander is east of the dike,
he’s in the old Catholic part. With the villages Nes and Buren. On the western side of the dike,
behind the woods… …are the Protestant villages
Hollum and Ballum. When an Amelander approaches
the woods before noon… …he meets the men
of the Daalders Plakje. Every day, no matter what the season,
they get together here. They’re so firmly rooted, the Forestry
Commission gave them a table. Because they belong here,
like the trees belong. What do you talk about?
– Well, the special subjects. Sports. What happens in the village.
– The past, often. They get together on the Plakje…
– Plekje. Plek. …to talk about old friends. There used to be an old bargeman
here, Hans Bruin. The man had roamed the mud flats
all his life. And he used to come here
to talk about the flats. He told the guests: You take
the city flats, we’ll take the mud flats. And that’s how it is. About interference from the mainland. Ameland doesn’t like the Friesian
language, in principle. That’s always been the struggle.
The Hague ordering us. Friesian had to be taught.
The schools said: No interest. They discuss East and West Ameland.
– We speak a different language here. For example, we say gash.
That’s grass. They say gesh. We say oold wud in the ettec.
Old wood in the attic. And they say ole woud in the attac,
or whatever. They even talk about the big festival the
stranger doesn’t need to know about. That one festival…
– St. Nicholas Day. You can’t talk about it.
– You can’t. Why not?
– I’ve been told… You can talk about it a little,
but we won’t say a thing. What can you tell me about it? Is there
anything I am allowed to know? They’re the only two days we wear the
pants. Women usually wear the pants. But there are various strange stories
about it. They told me you shave
women’s heads. That’s not true. That’s simply not true.
– No, that’s not true. There was a car that was battered.
– And seriously too. That’s what I mean. Strangers from
the mainland thought it was allowed. But it’s not.
– Driving in the village. But it depends who you meet.
– Why can’t strangers watch? Because it’s a festival for the islanders.
They prefer to be left alone. They’re not welcome for two days.
The tourists. We’re afraid it will get watered down.
Then it’ll all be over. The island has about 3500 inhabitants,
in four villages. In Hollum, they’re proud
that the front door is never locked. If possible,
you have a vegetable garden. If possible, you have a centuries-old
house that you maintain carefully. If possible, you have a horse in Hollum. And if possible, a Hollumer
doesn’t see many tourists in winter. In the heart of Hollum,
the island’s dignitaries gather. The Gentlemen of the Ruling Chamber. 28 men who meet once a month
to discuss current affairs. Among them
are the old lighthouse keeper… …the landlord of the local pub… …and the game warden,
also the chairman of the Gentlemen. I ask you to go to the Ruling Chamber
to continue the session. Gentlemen, silence before the meal. And let’s think about all
that connects us on this small island. As an exception, the mayor
and his wife were also invited. Enjoy your meal. Table One. Table Two, Three, Four, Five. A favourite topic at the dinner table
is the autonomy of the island. The Friesian mudflats account for
50 percent of the northern economy. And Ameland is one of the biggest
contributors. The Amelander likes the spirit
of the law, not the letter. The authorities are expected
to agree with this. At a council meeting,
an alderman sometimes says: Mr. Mayor, this national or European
rule doesn’t apply to us. The mayor is from the mainland. And as he’s not a native, the entire
population is willing to give him advice. We talk plainly to the mayor.
If we don’t like it, he knows right away. That’s easy for him.
He knows how things are. It’s live and let live. The spirit
of the law matters, not the letter. You get pretty far that way. A young Amelander rarely
sits behind a screen at home. Long ago, he had only three options: He could become a fisherman,
a farmer, or he could go hunt whales. They used to catch a lot of them. The jawbones of the whales still charm
the Amelanders and tourists. Whaling was not a popular enterprise. But the Amelander, robust, tough
and poor, was willing to engage in it. The Amelanders
only sailed the seas together. Never with men from Terschelling
or Texel. Once at sea, they spent most days
on the same activity. Waiting for their prey. They were gone
from spring until autumn. But in the winter
the island was theirs again. The women were glad
their men were back. As long as they weren’t home that
much. That was the women’s domain. Look, there’s a fish in there. Ameland’s women
could make their own living. They didn’t like to be accountable. The women had become used
to handling their own affairs. Mrs. Wijnbergen, are you allowed
to drive a tractor on the beach? From mid-April to May 1, I’m not sure. And do you do it after that?
– Excuse me? Do you do it secretly then?
– Yes, secretly. Very often. There. There he is, Willem. Call him, Willem. And through the head. Amelanders like to roam
their island’s nature reserves. There, they do what they’ve done
for centuries. The Kammingas, who ruled the island
for almost 300 years… …turned the Amelanders into poachers.
The island belonged to the family… …the inhabitants belonged to the
family, and the family owned the game. Gentlemen, what’s the take? Let’s see. One hare…
– Two hares and a rabbit. Two hares and a rabbit. In 1680, the Kamminga family died out. But the Amelander
still likes to recall their rule. That high-handed dynasty
with its strange laws. Game law also meant that inhabitants
had to cut their cats’ ears off. Why?
– The tips of the ears. So the cat couldn’t close its ears. In the rabbit hole, they got sand
in their ears. They hated that. They didn’t pull rabbits from the holes.
So the Kammingas had more. It’s all neatly described
in an old Kamminga law book. They had their own laws. We’ve always
been free, not part of the Netherlands. When the Kammingas died out,
we fell under stadtholder Friso. Part of Friesland.
Before that, we were free. The free dominion of Ameland. Yes, I’m proud of that.
Proud to be an Amelander. And what are you proud of?
– The freedom. In the coldest months, the Amelander
enjoys the silence on the island. Now there’s plenty of time for club life. The ladies of the Sister Circle meet
monthly in Hollum’s Baptist church. Whether it’s God’s will or not… …it’s the country’s only church where
Baptists and Reformed enter together. God could wonder
if they were brought together… …by the Christian or the Ameland
community spirit. The Sisters meet to catch up. They come for the tea,
the coffee and the cake. They come to sing. He supports me when I falter And to crochet and knit
for a better world. Ladies, welcome everyone. It’s nice that we’re all here.
Only Sister Jetta still couldn’t make it. Ladies, can I sit down here?
– Sure, come and join us. The meeting is chaired by Nel. Nel Wijnbergen makes sure
the island’s unwritten law isn’t forgotten. Thou shalt not put on airs. Is anyone the boss here?
Is there authority? Well, there’s city hall. I don’t know
if you can call that authority. The mayor lives there.
I don’t even know him. Real authority?
What authority do we have? We’re all aqual here, aren’t we? Aqual?
– Equal. Sorry for my Amelands. The Sisters speak about the island
with love and pride. In the past, people thought we were
backwards. Well, that’s really not true. People help each other.
– Volunteer aid. Yes, volunteer aid.
– Munity. Community. Absolutely.
– Munity? A community of people
who take care of each other. What the government wants.
– You anticipate that? Yes, maybe we do. It’s safe here as well.
– Safe? You can safely walk down the street
here at night. You can’t do that on the mainland. Everyone keeps their back door open
at night. Anyone can come in. In the summer too, with the tourists?
– Then we lock the door more often. We put the key in the lock,
so anyone can enter. What are you knitting for, by the way?
– A lot of good causes. But I have to add, they’re good causes
Amelanders are involved in. So we know every penny
goes to the right place. When you give to 555, a lot of money
goes to the highly paid directors. When the outsider mentions
St. Nicholas, or Sunnicklas… …the Sisters become wary. Sunnicklas?
– Yes, Sunnicklas. That we can’t discuss?
– We’d better not. It’s simply an Amelander
people’s festival. Yes, Sunnicklas. But I heard women get beaten.
– That’s nonsense. We like that.
– You do? When we were young,
we went yardie snicking once. Yardie snicking? What is that?
– Sneaking out of the house… …and entering another one.
We got caught. She tore out a door, with the lock
and all. That’s how scared she was. The men wear suits, the women don’t.
But some girls do, it’s exciting. If someone recognizes you, you know
you get a few raps with the stick. That’s part of the game.
– Keep it that way. It’s part of our ways. Should the stranger dare to visit
the island on December 5… …he may be surprised
by the blaring of horns. Those are the sounds
of the Sunnicklas festival. And when the stranger braves
the unlit streets of Hollum… …something a decent stranger
won’t do… …he’ll witness Ameland’s
most beloved tradition. The party the outsider
can’t record anymore. It’s 5 o’clock. The track sweepers
rid the streets of unwanted customers. Everyone under 18 and all
the womenfolk are chased home. The track sweepers are strict,
but are challenged anyway. You have to retreat
and wait for the Sunnicklases. There they are. The men of the village,
wrapped up in homemade suits. Unrecognizable to the rest
and each other. All looking for traitors: Women or boys who dare to go out,
or even wear the suit. They test each other’s strength. If you’re weak,
you may be a woman or a boy. They call this fusting. Daredevils get what they deserve. Why this game is played,
is not important anymore. We’ve done this for centuries, says the
Amelander. And no one can stop us. On neutral ground, Hollum’s museum,
photographer Spoelstra wants to talk. In Hollum, Sunnicklas is different
than in Nes, in the East… …where Spoelstra lives.
The rules are more relaxed there. At least, that’s what he thought, when
he photographed them for his paper. What can we see in the picture? The backs of suits.
No recognizable faces. An atmospheric image of Ameland.
– The response was swift. His windows were besmirched,
his garden was filled with poo. They spread poo all over.
– Shit. Manure.
– Manure. Some people use certain traditions… …to act out against people
they don’t agree with. Anonymously.
– A kind of revenge? Yes, you could call it that. Because they don’t like you?
– Some people took the opportunity. Do you feel you’re an outcast?
– No. We’re in Hollum. I get an incredible
amount of sympathy from this village. They can’t even imagine what happens
in Nes and Buren. They’re nuts there. I gather Hollum is more conservative,
the party more traditional. While your side of the island
is more moderate. It used to be. But now there’s
a small group on my side… …in Nes and Buren, who think
they have to catch up to Hollum. They become more Catholic than
the Pope, and even more militant. So they sometimes go too far. The Amelander likes a garden
that looks representative. And where that look is missing… …the Amelander is probably missing
as well. I notice…
– Ton. Michael. I’m sorry. I notice your garden doesn’t look
like that one. Is that…
– That’s true, yes. That garden. All gardens, actually. Of course you have to keep up
with the neighbours. How do they see you?
You’re an exception. I’m not an Amelander. I am an islander
by now, there’s a big difference. Look, they do accept me. It’s easy to be accepted here. You distinguish between
Amelanders and islanders. Why? The Amelander was born here.
The islander just lives here. He may be integrated and part of
the island, but he’s not an Amelander. So what is an Amelander?
– He was born and raised here. And it goes very far. A while ago
I was in the supermarket. A woman in front of me was talking
to the checkout girl… …about her sister’s newborn baby.
It was born in a hospital in Leeuwarden. The women were sad, because
the child wasn’t an Amelander. When Ton Verplanke came here
50 years ago as a welfare worker… …who had to reconcile
East and West… …the Amelanders were not welcoming. between raindrops, I hope for the sun Reconciliation was up to the people.
They didn’t need a welfare worker. But it was a nice place, surrounded
by the sea. So Ton kept his house. He couldn’t be an Amelander,
but did become a poet and sculptor. To the delight of tourists, who want
authenticity in picturesque portions. Do they criticize your garden?
The mess? They just accept it?
– Yes, they do. Probably because the tourists
tell them it’s nice. On New Year’s Eve,
they always have big fires here. They come here and take away
the junk lying around. Over by the gate,
a lot of poles were standing. They threw them on the fire
at New Year’s. So they were burning art, by accident? Not by accident. It burns. This is your living room?
– Yes. My summer living room.
– Summer living room? You have a winter one too?
– Other side. On the other side? Is this you? But you’re completely naked. Do you like to walk around naked?
Are you a nudist? Do they like that here?
– They got used to it. Oh, nice. This is celeriac.
– Yes, celeriac. Delicious. Did you manage to bring
the communities together? No, and I couldn’t have done it
in many years. Time has done it a little,
and time will keep on doing it. The tourists introduce the island
to a different world. That broadens their horizon. That broadening has had
a big influence over the years. They try to hang on to things tightly,
but they can’t. Because they’ve had this experience.
Slowly, you can see people change. Because the culture changes, you
also see a festival like Sunnicklas… …being celebrated more fanatically. The fanaticism is coming back, yes. Amelanders prefer not to move
to the mainland. That applies to the young too. What’s it like, living on Ameland? Wonderful.
– The population here hardly shrinks. Unlike on the other Friesian islands,
Amelanders want to grow old here. Although studying can force them
to the mainland. What education can you get here
on the island? Three years of secondary school,
and lower professional. For a secondary school diploma,
I had to go to the mainland. You go to school on the mainland?
Is it boring to live on an island? Not at all. I really love it here,
I’m never bored. Are Amelanders close?
Is this a very tight community? I think so, yes.
– A cheeky question: How about love? Are there enough nice boys here?
– All four of us found one. Does the boy have to be
an Amelander? Her boyfriend isn’t.
– He’s from Zeeland. He moved here for me.
– Would you move to Zeeland? Not?
– No. I couldn’t. No, really.
– Why not? I don’t know. That’s not my home.
This is my home. I have everything here, this is
where I grew up. I couldn’t leave. If the Ameland flag has a special place
in the sense of community… …that sense is even stronger
if the flag was beachcombed. The Ameland beachcomber has always
been flexible about mine and thine. Beachcombers used to walk,
now they use a car or even a speedboat. Gerardus found his role
as beachcomber early on. He plays the part with verve. Every winter, I still find coal and coke. That goes back to…
– Back to the war. A ship went down with coke and coal. When there’s an east wind,
it washes ashore. I use it for my stove outside. All islanders know the rules
of beachcombing. Anything that washes ashore
has no history. If the beachcomber puts an object
in the dunes with sand on it… …another one won’t take it. All valuables have to be reported to
the wreck-master, usually the mayor. But this is often forgotten as well. Because it’s always unclear
whose domain this is. I used to get 12 guilders 50
for a dead seal. 12.50?
– The oil was used, and the pelt. If it was still good. Dirk, good morning. I’m at the old
swimming beach with a huge seal. But it’s dead. The old swimming beach,
near Jan and Dolly. Nowadays it’s mainly nature
that keeps the beachcomber occupied. The sea people, with their huge ships,
don’t serve him anymore. The skippers avoid the big storms… …and keep the best wares
below decks in fear. Everything is tied down.
So it doesn’t often go wrong. Not like in the past. If you’re lucky,
a pleasure boat is wrecked. Yes, we regularly get those
on the beach. But if I understand correctly, there’s
something weird about beachcombers. Yes. They are weird. I mean, if I heard
about a ship being wrecked… …I’d think: Those poor sailors,
will they make it? But that’s not the first thing you think
about when a ship goes down, is it? No, you don’t think
about the people then. You think: What kind of load
did it have? The true beachcomber doesn’t care
if the loot is from a ship… …or from the island itself. For instance, from a beach bar,
ravaged by the storm. He managed to save some booze
at night, on the way. But several bottles of wine disappeared.
They were found on the other side. Let’s be clear: If a beach bar
is wrecked by a storm… …it belonged to a fellow islander,
didn’t it? The stuff is spread around here,
and you beachcombers don’t care. You just take it.
Even if it’s your neighbour? That doesn’t matter. No, it doesn’t. You don’t take it from his own place.
You don’t do that. But you do if it’s a bit further away. You don’t take a saw to the bar. But if
there’s a storm, you say thank you. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Amelander’s.
It washes ashore. The island’s most famous beachcomber
was Ritskemooi, or the Oerd witch. She was a poor woman.
When her only son went to sea… …beachcombing became
her only livelihood. She became greedy, and lured ships
to the shore with her lamp. When they stranded,
she collected the loot. Until one day she found the body
of her son Sjoerd, washed ashore. The Amelander won’t say
she really existed. But many Amelander children hear
her son’s name when the wind howls. Ritskemooi lured ships,
today’s Amelander lures tourists. All over the island, parks were laid out
for the mainlanders. The island has 3500 inhabitants. But it has 28,000 beds. And when the winter is over,
they arrive again. The seaside visitors. The Amelanders receive
550,000 tourists a year. The island was a popular destination
75 years ago… …according to the booklet
Ameland Through the Ages from 1946. When there are tourists,
Ameland comes alive. Twice a day, from June till September,
the boat brings many tired city folk… …and landlubbers unused to the sea. A stream that spreads in all directions
from the jetty in Nes. Then the stranger rules over Ameland.
But his reign is sociable and festive. The Amelander gladly adapts to it. The uninhabited eastern part
is called the Oerd… …named after Ritskemooi’s son Sjoerd. When a tourist comes here, he’ll be
closely watched by Richard Kiewiet… …the game warden and groundsman. A rabbit?
– Yes. Are you hungry? Then I’ll get it for you. He guards nature with authority. When people step out of bounds,
we correct them. If it’s bad, we give them a summons.
– You can do that? The warden is a Catholic from Buren
village, in the centre of the island. He doesn’t visit the West,
Hollum and Ballum, very often. It’s simple. The boat arrives in Nes. What does someone from Buren want
in Ballum and Hollum? Richard Kiewiet belongs to one
of the island’s oldest tribes. My family, or tribe, has been living
on the island for at least 400 years. We researched that. That’s as far back as we can go.
It may be 600 years. If you come to live here,
and want to tell us what’s what… …you’d better shut up for five years. When they start sounding off,
we’re just like piranhas. We eat them up very slowly. We may be direct and primitive,
but we set limits right away. You can join in, but no loafing.
You work. I do notice that you’re no strangers
to a certain amount of pride. Or is that normal,
and are you subservient? We’d prefer to have our own rules,
but we can’t. We’re part of the Netherlands
and get 600,000 tourists. We’re very glad we do. It’s not: One
rule for us, another one for tourists. Sometimes our thinking clashes a little
with the thinking in the Randstad. Our attitude differs from yours. When you say you,
you mean the Randstad? Well, the Dutch. You are the people
from across the water. We don’t strive for big fortunes,
you need to go to the mainland for that. You can have a career there, not here. We just bring home modest wages.
They’ll have to do. You work your butts off
and make a lot of money. Then you buy a small farm,
with a dog, a sheep and a goat. The same things we already have.
So it seems we’re just lucky. In Hollum, every islander and
landlubber is welcome on King’s Day. The Dutch tricolour
together with the Ameland flag. The Amelander loves parties, especially
when they involve dressing up. He also loves parties because they
give him a chance to mock authority. The mayor on a leash. It’s part of the game, he’ll say. The photographer
can take his pictures. They can be published in the paper. When the holiday season begins,
the tourist’s reign begins. The Amelander has to cater
to the guest 24 hours a day. That way the larder can be filled again
for the winter. In the winter, freedom returns,
the old lighthouse keeper says. The islanders have always been free,
free to go fishing or whatever. Now you need a fishing license,
many things are banned on the mud flats. We think that’s rather a nuisance. We also know what nature is,
we also love nature. And all we get is bans
we don’t understand. We’re a small group,
so we’re an easy target. You act like you’re a primitive people,
a kind of aboriginals… …chased off your hunting grounds. If you think about it carefully,
that’s true. Maybe it’s our fault too,
because we allow so many tourists here. But the freedom is still there,
if you look hard. Islanders will always tell you it’s about
freedom, and that’s being taken away. Amelanders sometimes fight
among each other. How many guests can we handle?
Some say more, others say fewer. Out of necessity,
they became a hospitable people. And although they may look askance at
the eccentric who moves to the island… …they let him do what he wants. In his turn, the eccentric lets
the Amelander have his peculiarities. And he will never forget
the most important rule: Lie low on December 5 and 6. Because on those days,
the island belongs to us again.