With Qualifiersdongerijs [Dutch], dungary [English], dungaree [English], poutkas [Subtype], poucas [Subtype], dongrijs [Dutch]
Textiles, Modifiers, and Values
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The VOC’s published cargo lists categorize dongris under cottons, and when additional modifiers are provided in the data, roughly half are described as bleached, fewer are described as natural (ruw/raw), and a handful have red borders (roode hoofden). Dongris appears to be a plain cloth, either the natural color of the fiber or bleached white. John Irwin notes that dongris might have doubled wefts/warps, which we have yet to confirm with extant samples. Glossary definitions of dongris/dungarees describe them as dyed brown or blue, but the three later samples included in Forbes-Watson (1866), from the English trade, are all rough-textured off-white fabrics, including the example above. In the early 18th century, dongris are priced between 1.5 and 2 guilders per piece, with Coromandel dongris averaging 2 guilders and Bengal dongris averaging 1 guilder, 13 stuivers per piece. Laarhoven estimates a piece to be 10.2–18.36 by 1.01–1.5 meters.
In the VOC data, all dongris comes from the Indian subcontinent, the majority from the Coromandel Coast and Bengal, with a tiny 1.5% shipping from Gujarat. Several entries specifically indicate the Coromandel cities of Machilipatnam and Tuticorin. Dongris also exports from Sri Lanka/Ceylon, though it is unclear if this is Coromandel/Bengal cloth shipped via Sri Lanka. The vast majority of dongris ships to the Dutch Republic and to Batavia. The Batavian dongris moved onward to the Dutch Republic, to elsewhere in Asia (Iran/Persia, Yemen, across the island of Java, Sulawesi, and lesser quantities to Sumatra, Maluku/Spice Islands, Thailand/Siam, and Timor), and also to the Cape of Good Hope. No dongris has yet been noted on Dutch West India cargoes. This pattern of circulation is interesting considering the textile is likely named for the city of Dongri near Mumbai on the west coast of India, while the Dutch data from 1705–1724 shows nearly all coming from Coromandel and Bengal. Is this a variance in the patterns of circulation by trading company or by time period? The English East India Company colonized the region around Dongri, and perhaps this has influenced presumptions about this textile.
The VOC cargo lists often indicate that the dongris will be used for packing, alongside more expensive fine textiles and other gift items like weapons. For example, the VOC ship Gent departed Batavia on February 27th, 1711, for Makassar on the island of Sulawesi, bearing gifts for fifteen rajas and other officials. All 147 of these gift items are separate entries in the bookkeeping, with the value of each item detailed. Each recipient, with one exception, received dongris. Some have an indicated use of protection, some as packing, and some as a gift. The dongris was used to wrap and protect these gifts items as they traveled aboard ships, suggesting that dongris was densely woven or wrapped in layers to provide protection against damp and dirt, to present the gifts, and it was also a gift item on its own. This protective dongris is doled out in small quantities, ranging from a quarter piece to two pieces, perhaps depending on the size and number of gift bundles. In the image above, the Dutch envoy presents gifts to Vice King Singlamong of China and his nobles in 1667, from Olfert Dapper’s account. Men are moving and unwrapping bundled goods in the left foreground, while others carry smaller packets to the area in front of the throne where still more bundles sit. Might some of these bundles in the foreground and before the throne represent textile gifts, wrapped in several layers of dongris, and then secured with cord that sinks into the soft textiles within? While Dapper’s text does not describe the hardy cloth enclosing the gifts, he and his engraver, who were not eye witnesses to this exchange, may have imagined a common wrapping, served by something like dongris.
Secondary sources also tell us that dongris was used to make sails and rough clothing, which suggests a similarity of texture and durability with sail cloth. The modern cognate of dongris, dungarees, is a type of trouser, made of durable canvas or denim—alike in spirit, one presumes, to that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century dongris, but now a constructed garment, made from assorted textiles. The discrepancies in the textual descriptions of dongris (dyed blue or brown) versus the Dutch data (bleached or natural), the variances in the geographies, and the current lack of an eighteenth-century sample, leaves questions unanswered, but suggests that this textile may have had varying types, perhaps targeted at different markets. If dongris was as useful as it is described, it’s odd that it isn’t noted in the African and American contexts, but it’s possible it was recategorized in those documents under the name of another utilitarian textile.
John Irwin and P. R. Schwartz, Studies in Indo-European Textile History (Ahmedabad India: Calico Museum of Textile, 1966), 64.
Irwin and Schwartz, Studies, 64; Victoria Finlay, Fabric: The Hidden History of the Material World (New York/London: Pegasus Books, 2022), 84; J. Forbes Watson, Collection of Specimens and Illustrations of the Textile Manufactures of India, first series, vol. 12 (London: India Museum, 1866), nos. 471, 473, 474. Digital facsimile: https://archive.org/embed/dli.watson.12, accessed 7 September 2022.
Laarhoven, “The Power of Cloth: The Textile Trade of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) 1600–1780” (PhD diss., Australian National University, Canberra, 1994), appendix A, 24–5.
Judith Schoonveld-Oosterling et al, Bookkeeper-General Batavia (Amsterdam: Huygens Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis, 2008–2013), https://bgb.huygens.knaw.nl, voyage number 14306. The return trip of the same ship to Batavia, in June of that year, primarily carried rice (voyage number 13633).
Olfert Dapper, Gedenkwaerdig bedryf der Nederlandsche Oost-Indische Maetschappye…, vol. 2 (J. van Meurs: Amsterdam, 1670), 263–265 discusses textiles and other gifts in the context of this gathering, which was prelude to the Dutch gaining an audience with the emperor of China.
Instituut voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis, VOC-Glossarium. Verklaringen van termen, verzameld uit de Rijks geschiedkundige publicatiën die betrekking hebben op the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (The Hague: Institute voor Nederlandse Geschiedenis, 2000), 40. Also available as interactive here: http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vocglossarium/zoekvoc