Rijklof van Goens experienced Mataram’s long 1629 siege on Batavia as a ten-year-old, having left Holland for Java with his parents the year before. Orphaned early, he was raised in the household of a VOC official in India and prepared for his own career within the company. He gained a wide knowledge of Asia’s palaces through his many postings, his fluency in Asian languages, and his family ties. He survived three wives, all of them women born to Dutch fathers and Asian mothers and raised in Asia. After his ninth year, van Goens spent only twelve months in Europe. He ended his working career in Batavia as the VOC’s governor-general in the years 1678 to 1681.
Van Goens was curious about Asian societies and sensitive to the nuances around him. He responded to the beauty of Java’s landscape, but this appreciation did not soften his assessment of sultanates as difficult places for Dutch men to work. He judged Javanese men as swift to take offense and unpredictable partners in business. He sided with those VOC officials in Java who were urging on the company’s directors a policy of acquisition of land and direct control of agriculture and labor, instead of relying on the goodwill of Indonesian rulers to obtain trade goods. Despite living fifty-two of his sixty-three years in Asia, van Goens was a product of a seventeenth-century Dutch culture that rejected kings, reserved reverence for God, and introduced the handshake as the appropriate mode of courtesy between men who perceived themselves as equals. This background shaped the narrative van Goens wrote for the VOC in 1655.