Posted on: 25 March 2013

Pioneers of Orientalism at the VOC - Phillipus Baldaeus
By Luba Zubkova

Another missionary who came to Ceylon upon the conquest of Colombo by the Dutch in 1656 was Phillipus Baldaeus
(1632-1672). A talented cartographer and writer, the Company appointed him a predicant responsible for converting the Tamil communities on the northern part of the island to the Dutch Reformed religion. He lived in and around Jaffna for nine years and sailed around to inspect the Dutch possessions in South India.

Baldaeus moved among the people, mastering the Tamil language in which he could preach and converse. He thought ‘ is more befitting and seemly that a teacher or minister masters the language of his congregation, rather than for the congregation to learn thelanguage of their minister’ (Saparamadu 1958:XIX). Baldaeus compiled several manuscripts to be used by native proponents of Protestantism and schoolmasters, and prepared a Tamil Psalter. It was published in book form in 1755, ‘the earliest vernacular book of music’ (Kesavan 1985:59). Printing was brought by the Dutch to Ceylon in the late 1720s, and the earliest Tamil work printed was a 1741 Tamil Bible by the Hollender Press of the VOC.

Baldaeus’ personal observations of the life and mores of Hindus constituted a monumental work in Dutch, printed in Amsterdam in 1672. In the same year it was translated into German, and in 1703 abridged in English: A True and Exact Description of the most Celebrated East India Coasts of Malabar and Choromandel. As also the Great Island of Ceylon and the Religion of the Heathens of the East Indies.
The book included maps, engravings illustrating the author’s experiences, and a supplement entitled Introduction to the Malabar language which contained elements of Tamil grammar followed by the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed in Tamil.

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Philippus Baldaeus (1632-1671)
Creator: Abraham Blooteling
Date of creation: 1671

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