Valentijn, François

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Valentijn, François

François Valentijn was born on April 17, 1666, in the city of Dordrecht, the Netherlands, as the eldest of seven children of Abraham Valentijn and Maria Rijsbergen. He studied theology at the universities of Utrecht and Leiden. During his life he spent nearly fifteen years as a minister in the Dutch East-Indies (1685–1694 and 1706–1713), mostly in the Moluccan Archipelago. In 1692 he entered into matrimony with Cornelia Snaats (1660–1717) who bore him two daughters. Valentijn died on August 6, 1727, in the city of The Hague. Valentijn is often noted for his role in discussions about early translations of the Bible into Malay. However, his established reputation rests on his multivolume work on Asia titled Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indië (Old and New East-Indies).


At the age of nineteen, Valentijn was called to the ministry on Ambon Island, the chief trade and administrative hub of the Moluccan Archipelago. In the city of Ambon, he preached in the Malay language and trained local Ambonese assistant ministers, while also having to inspect some fifty Christian parishes in the region.

In the 1600s the catechism and liturgy were offered in so-called High-Malay, which most local Christians did not understand. Valentijn fervently opposed the use of High-Malay and instead propagated Ambon-Malay because, in his opinion, all Christian communities in the Indies understood this local dialect.

During his stay in Ambon, a number of Valentijn's colleagues blamed him for paying too much attention to his wife and making a living from usury. On top of these accusations, he was found guilty of manipulating official church records. The relationship with his colleagues grew tense because Valentijn disliked his task of inspecting the Christian parishes on other islands. In 1694 he returned to the Netherlands where he spent much time on his Bible translation.

In 1705 Valentijn returned to Ambon. During this period, Reverend Valentijn got into a conflict with the governor of Ambon about too much interference of the secular administration in church affairs without the consent of the church administration. This conflict worsened after Valentijn rejected his call by the central colonial administration to the island of Ternate. In 1713 his repeated request for repatriation was finally met.


In 1693 during a meeting with the Church Council of Batavia, Valentijn announced that he had completed the translation of the Bible into Ambon-Malay. The Church Council refused to publish Valentijn's translation because two years earlier they assigned the task of translating the Bible into High-Malay to the Batavia-based Reverend Melchior Leydecker.

After Valentijn returned to the Netherlands in 1695, he rallied support for his translation. A heated discussion unfolded, in which Valentijn and, amongst others, the Dutch Reformed synods of both the provinces of North- and South-Holland, opposed the critique of Leydecker and the Church Council of Batavia. The Council's criticism largely concerned Valentijn's use of a poor dialect of Malay. The synods in the Netherlands were not in the position to participate in the debate as most relevant linguists resided in the Indies, but Valentijn's personal network most likely contributed to the support for Valentijn's translation.

In 1706 a special commission of ministers in the Indies inspected a revised edition of Valentijn's translation but still noticed a number of shortcomings. Although Valentijn told the commission that he would redo the translation, the final revised edition was never presented to the Church Council. The Council eventually decided to publish Leydecker's High-Malay translation, which was used in the Moluccas from 1733 onward into the twentieth century.


From 1719 onward, Valentijn, as a private citizen, devoted himself chiefly to his magnum opus, Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indië (ONOI), comprising his own notes, observations, sections of writings from his personal library, and materials trusted to him by former colonial officials. In 1724, the first two volumes were published in the cities of Dordrecht and Amsterdam, followed by the following three volumes in 1726. This work comprises geographical and ethnological descriptions of the Moluccas and the trading contacts of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) throughout Asia.

Scholars consider this substantial work the first Dutch encyclopedic reference for Asia. ONOI contains factual data, descriptions of persons and towns, anecdotes, ethnological engravings, maps, sketches of coastlines, and city plans, as well as excerpts of official documents of the church council and colonial administration.

Valentijn wrote in an uncorrupted form of Dutch, which many contemporary writers were not able to compete with. The structure of Valentijn's colossal work is rather chaotic: the descriptions of more than thirty regions are erratically spread over a total number of forty-nine books in five volumes, each consisting of two parts, and held together in eight bindings.

Since the publication of ONOI, numerous scholars have accused Valentijn of plagiarism. It is true that he included abstracts of other works, such as the celebrated account on the Ambon islands by Rumphius, without referencing them properly. However, general acknowledgment of sources can be found in several places, for example, in his preface to the third volume.


For almost two centuries, Valentijn's work was the single credible reference for Asia. ONOI was therefore used as the main manual for Dutch civil servants and colonial administrators who were sent to work in the East Indies.

Valentijn's work is still a major source for historical studies on the Dutch East Indies. For example, the reference book on Dutch-Asiatic shipping in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (The Hague, 1979–1987) was compiled on the basis of materials derived from Valentijn's work. The importance of ONOI for the historical reconstruction of other regions is clearly demonstrated by the publication of English translations of Valentijn's parts concerning the Cape of Good Hope (1971–1973) and the first twelve chapters of his description of Ceylon (1978).

Valentijn's work also proved to be of great importance for the natural history of the Moluccas. Valentijn included in ONOI descriptions by Rumphius on, for example, Ambonese animals, while Rumphius's original unpublished manuscript was later lost. In 1754 Valentijn's part on sea flora and fauna was separately published in Amsterdam, and some twenty years later translated into German. It was only in 2004 that the complete ONOI was reprinted and made available to a larger public.

see also Dutch United East India Company; Moluccas; Religion, Western Perceptions of Traditional Religions; Religion, Western Perceptions of World Religions; Travelogues.


Boetzelaer van Asperen en Dubbeldam, dr. C.W.Th. baron. "De geschiedenis van de Maleische bijbelvertaling in Nederlandsch-Indië" [The history of the Malay bible translation in the Netherlands-Indies]. Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania (Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde), 100 (1941): 27-48.

Habiboe, R. R. F. Tot verheffing van mijne natie. Het leven en werk van François Valentijn [For the elevation of my nation. The life and work of François Valentijn] (1666–1727). Franeker: Uitgeverij Van Wijnen, 2004.

Keyzer, dr. S. François Valentijn's Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indiën. (1856–58). 1st ed. Amsterdam: Wed. J. C. van Kesteren & Zoon, 1862.

Valentijn, François. Deure der waarhyd [Door of Truth]. Dordregt: Cornelis Willegaarts, 1698.

Valentijn, François. Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indiën [Old and New East-Indies] (1724–1726). 1st ed. Franeker: Uitgeverij Van Wijnen, 2002–2004.

Valentijn, François. Verhandeling der Zee-Horenkens en Zeegewassen in en omtrent Amboina, dienende tot een vervolg van de Amboinsche Rariteitenkamer beschreven door Georgius Everhardus Rumphius [Discourse concerning sea-whelks and sea-plants in and around Amboina, as a sequel to The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet described by Georgius Everhardus Rumphius]. Amsterdam: J. van Keulen, 1754.

Valentijn, François. "Description of the Cape of Good Hope with Matters Concerning It, Amsterdam 1726." Van Riebeeck Society Publications, 2nd series, no. 2, 4. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society, 1971–1973. Edited and annotated by Prof. P. Serton, Maj. R. Raven-Hart, and Dr. W. J. de Kock. Final editor Dr. E. H. Raidt. Introduction by Prof. P. Serton. English translation by Maj. R. Raven-Hart.

Valentijn, François. "François Valentijns description of Ceylon." Works Issued by the Hakluyt Society, 2nd series, no. 149. Translated from the Dutch and edited by Sinnappah Arasaratnam. London: Hakluyt Society, 1978.

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