With Qualifiersnecanias [English, necanias], neckjes [Common Misspelling]
Textiles, Modifiers, and Values
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Nickanees refers to an inexpensive blue-and-white striped loom-patterned cotton textile produced primarily in Gujarat, India and shipped to various ports in South and Southeast Asia and Africa. Extant samples suggest a remarkable similarity between the patterns of the blue-and-white vertical stripes that characterize nickanees, which generally adhere to the following arrangement, with minor variations: a thick white stripe of 11–12 threads; a thick dark blue stripe of 10–12 threads; a thin white stripe of 2 white threads; and a thick dark blue stripe of 10–12 threads. Some swatches include an additional thin white stripe followed by a thick blue stripe.
We have found one sample of nickanees from much later (1820s) with red stripes, which is labeled as “nicanees red” whereas there is no color indicated on any of the other swatches. From this we have concluded that blue-and-white is the standard and red is a notable variation.
The average price of nickanees varied per region. In Asia, one piece of nickanees could be sold for between 2 and 4 guilders (one piece measured approximately between 6.8 and 14.7 meters long by .75 and .93 meters wide, according to Laarhoven). In Africa, one the other hand, one piece of nickanees could cost between 4 and 8 guilders, which suggests a considerable mark-up for Atlantic trade. In African markets, nickanees are sometimes describes by their quality (coarse or fine). Coarse nickanees cost, on average, a little over 4 guilders per piece, whereas fine nickanees cost just over 5.3 guilders per piece. Nickanees shipped to Africa are also often described as “long,” “big,” or “short.” Long or big nickanees cost between 6 and 8 guilders, whereas short nickanees cost between 5 and 7 guilders per piece. The range of modifiers used to describe nickanees intended for African trade suggests a discerning and stratified market. Interestingly, nickanees produced for the Asian market are only ever described by their fiber (cotton) or their geographical origin (Gujarat), and never by their quality or size.
Although primary and secondary sources indicate that nickanees were popular in West Africa, they circulated in even larger quantities in many regions of Indonesia (between 1700 and 1724 almost 90,000 nickanees were circulating in Southeast Asia as compared to 24,000 on the west coast of Africa). And while many these cloths were indeed shipped back to the Netherlands, large quantities remained in circulation in maritime Indonesia.
The concentrated circulation of nickanees in Indonesia—and especially Batavia—seems to indicate that these textiles were sought after for a particular use. Indeed, the VOC documents and secondary sources confirm that nickanees were issued to enslaved and imprisoned people twice a year, suggesting that—for the VOC—this blue-and-white striped clothing was a potent visual signifier for people who were denied freedom in the Dutch colony. 
Interestingly, images from the period consistently associate blue-and-white striped clothing with garments worn by mardijkers—a Dutch term that derives from the Portuguese mardicas, meaning free people. Mardijkers were former slaves, or descendants of former slaves, from Portuguese-occupied regions of India and Bengal. Mardijkers in Batavia lived throughout the city (unlike many other ethnic/social groups who had designated neighborhoods), generally spoke Portuguese, and were nominally Catholic. Contemporary accounts found their style of dress noteworthy of description, especially the striped fabric from which they were made. Johannes Nieuhof, for example, describes the clothing of the Mardijkers as “mostly in the Dutch style” but made with striped fabric and open sleeves with pants that go all the way down to the ankles. Nieuhof includes an image with his text in which a male mardijker wears a striped doublet and pants similar in pattern similar to nickanees.
The mardijker pictured in Nieuhof’s book was ultimately modeled from watercolors by the Dutch artist Andries Beeckman. Beeckman was a VOC soldier and artist, who traveled to multiple locations in the Dutch East Indies in the 1650s and certainly spent significant time in Batavia. He produced watercolors of figures, animals, and landscapes, which also exist in anonymous copies and artworks clearly drawing from Beeckman’s originals. Beeckman’s Casteel Batavia is his best-known painting, which was made in Amsterdam after his return home and displayed in the VOC headquarters from 1662 until it was acquired by the Rijksmuseum. He populated the market scene in the foreground with figures from his watercolors, and a distant view of Batavia’s fort and city architecture provides the title. Of particular importance here is the man—traditionally identified as a mardijker—in the foreground wearing a hat, an orange, yellow, and white striped shirt, blue-and-white striped pants, and red shoes. The three images of mardijkers—Beeckman’s watercolor, Casteel Batavia, and Nieuhof’s engraving—are nearly identical, owing to the fact that they are all based on Beeckman’s in-situ preparatory watercolor. Of critical importance, of course, is the acknowledgment that these images represent the perspective of a singular Dutch artist employed by the VOC who spent only four years in Batavia.
Given the similarities between the garments issued to enslaved men and the appearance of the trousers of the mardijkers in the three images discussed above, one wonders if Beeckman conflated the appearance of the VOC-issued clothing with the dress of the mardijkers in order to impress upon the viewer their formerly enslaved status. Alternatively, Beeckman may not have been aware of these sartorial distinctions. If this is the case, blue-and-white striped garments must have been a fairly common signifier of enslaved status in Batavia, just as blue-and-white fabrics in West Africa and Brazil signaled enslavement for a European audience (see Guinea Cloth). This kind of social signaling is not unexpected in Dutch Batavia, where strict sumptuary laws aimed to create a visibly stratified society.
 Laarhoven, Appendix A, 46.
 Maria Holtrop, “Van Bengalen,” in Slavery, ed. Eveline Sint Nicolaas et al (Rijksmuseum, 2021), 159. Reggie Baay, Daar werd wat gruwelijks verricht. Slavernij in Nederlands-Indië (Amsterdam: Athenaeum–Polak & Van Gennep, 2015), 52. Laarhoven, Appendix A, 46.
 Johan Nieuhof, Gedenkwaardige Brasiliaense zee- en landreis (Amsterdam: Widow of van Jacob van Meurs, 1682), 217. “De kleeding der mannen is meest na Hollantse wijze,’t zy van gestreepte of andere stoffe met open mouwen. Zij dragen broeken, die hen tot op d-enkelen hangen, en hebben hoeden op het hooft.”
 Marsely L. Kehoe, “Dutch Batavia: Exposing the Hierarchy of the Dutch Colonial City,” Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 7:1 (Winter 2015); Adam Clulow. “‘Splendour and Magnificence’: Diplomacy and Sumptuary Codes in Early Modern Batavia,” in The Right to Dress: Sumptuary Laws in a Global Perspective, c. 1200-1800, ed. Giorgio Riello and Ulinka Rublack( Cambridge University Press, 2019), 299–324.