De Birnies

birnies documentaireDe Birnies
Rotterdam 1997
Joop de Jong & Liane van der Linden
Video € 13,85 excl porto
VHS speelduur 54 minuten
Zie YouTube-film hieronder.

De Indische Diaspora, deel I: De Birnies, een Indische familie uit Deventer toont drie generaties van een Indische familie. Elisabeth Birnie-Birnie, haar zoon Johan, jeugdvoorlichter bij de KJJB, en haar achterneef, de schrijver Alfred Birney zijn telgen uit een belangrijke en kleurrijke plantersfamilie op Oost-Java. Zij zijn de hoofdpersonen in deze documentaire, waarin wordt verhaald over de ontginning van de Oosthoek van Java, over de oorlog in Nederlands-Indië en de lange nawerking ervan. De documentaire, met muziek van Fernando Lameirinhas, is verkrijgbaar op video (VHS en NTSC).

Elisabeth Birnie-Birnie is de weduwe van Fred Birnie, de laatste directeur van het familieconcern in tabak, koffie, indigo, suiker en rubber op Oost-Java. Zij heeft 100 meter familiearchief laten onderbrengen bij het gemeentearchief van Deventer en er ruim drie jaar lang gewerkt aan een genealogie. Ze vatte de geschiedenis van honderd jaar ondernemerschap op Java samen in een familiekroniek.

Haar zoon Johan is jeugdvoorlichter bij de KJJB: de Vereniging van Kinderen uit de Japanse Bezetting en Bersiap 1941 – 1949 en verzorgt lezingen met een nadruk op zijn oorlogservaringen.

Alfred Birney zet met zijn verhaal een contrapunt in de familiegeschiedenis. Zijn vader is de niet-geëchte zoon van een Birnie-telg en diens Chinese vrouw, vandaar die andere schrijfwijze van de familienaam. Tijdens de onafhankelijkheidsstrijd vocht Alfreds vader tegen Indonesië. Nog jaren daarna zit hij ’s nachts gewapend met zijn mariniersdolk ‘peloppers’ achterna tot in de slaapkamer van de jonge Alfred. Die vader figureert in twee van Alfreds romans – Vogels rond een vrouw en De onschuld van een vis – reden waarom Elisabeth hem een brief schreef met de vraag of hij eigenlijk een Birnie is. Hiermee herstelt zij voor Alfred wat zijn vader altijd heeft moeten ontberen: tot de familie behoren. Al die Birnies tezamen vertellen de geschiedenis van Nederland in Indië, of beter gezegd, de Indische geschiedenis van Nederland.

De documentaire is gemaakt door Liane van der Linden en Joop de Jong, in opdracht van de Stichting Herdenking 15 augustus 1945 met financiële steun van het Ministerie van VWS en de medewerking van het Indisch Wetenschappelijk Instituut. De video is niet meer verkrijgbaar.

What’s in a name?

Birnie / Birney. At least a history. The shields of Birney (left) / Birnie (right) appear somewhat weird to me – maybe funny to you – having these three legs underneath the bow and arrow. They look somewhat different, but in fact they are similar. What’s in a shield? At least a story.

birnie familiewapenAccording to family documents 1473-1733, preserved in the ‘Charterchest’ of Broomhill; disclosed by John Birnie of Broomhill (year unknown), the story goes like this:

The account of Birnie of that Ilk

There is in wrytt a tradition in the family, that in the year of God 838, or thereby, Alpin, King of Scots, with many of his prime men being taken prisoners in battle by the Picts and thereafter murdered in cold blood, and the King’s head in a base manner set on a pole in one of their chieff cities, Kenneth the Second, his son, a brave prince, soon rais’d ane armie to be revenged on the actors of so barbarons a murder. All his followers were desperate and resolute, and had many conflicts several days together, amongst whom was one Birnie, Irish, and in English Bright, then called because of his glittering armour, and his two sons, who having several tymes signalized themselves, yet one evening pressing furiously into the thickest of the Picts, were all three, with several others, surrounded and made prisoners. Night by this tyme putting ane end to the fight, they had each of them one leg putt fast in a pair of stocks to prevent their escape, till the Picts had more leisure to put them to death. The father knowing very well what would come to them, advysed the cutting off of each of their legs: which done, they made a shift to return to their own men, and, at the next battle fatal to the Picts, they were observed to behave themselves with a new cowrage, wherewith the losse of their legs had animate them. The fortune of the Scots at length prevailling, this King Kenneth, in his just revenge, laid not asyde his arms untill he had extirpated the whole nation of the Picts: their possessions he devyded amongst his men, as they most deserved, and upon Birnie he bestowed a baronie of land near Elgin in the shyre of Murray, yet bearing his name, and which his posterity enjoyed for a long tyme thereafter, and gave them for their arms Gules, in resemblance of the late bloody battle, a Feasse, the mark of honour betwixt the bow and arrow in full draught, the most ancient arms then in use, and the three legs couped at the thigh, in perpetual remembrance of their valour.

Information about The Parish of Birnie (County of Elgin, Synod of Moray, Presbytery of Elgin) show something different about the meaning of the name BIRNIE:

This parish was named Brenuth about the beginning of the 13th century: A name probably derived from Brae-nut, i.e. ‘High land abounding in nuts’; for many hazle trees once grew upon the fides of the hills and banks of the rivulets, and the general appearance of the parish is hilly. The natives pronounce it Burn-nigh, i.e. ‘A village near the burn or river’. This etymology is descriptive enough of the particular place now called Birnie.

‘The surnames of Scotland’ in The New York Public Library (year unknown) says:

BIRNIE, BIRNEY. From Birnie in Moray. James de Brennath (the early form of the place name), burgess of Elgin, was one of an inquest concerning the King’s garden there in 1261. William de Brennath, dictus Tatenel, witnessed the gift by Hugh Herock, burgess of Elgin, to the church of Elgin in 1286, and Andrew de Brenach was clerk to Sir Dovenald, earl of Mar in 1291. Walter de Branach was the king’s chaplain in Moray, 1360. William de Byrneth, canon of the church of Moray, appears as a witness in 1463, Nicholas Birne was a chaplain in 1514, and William Byrny was burgess of Edinburgh in 1558. Birny 1568, Byrnye 1568, Birney 1589, Birnye 1614.

Note from Alfred Birney:

When I visited Moray in 1998 to follow River Lossie, in search for the old place called Birnie, locals told me they had just changed the name Birnie into Thomshill. There was a bar left though, called Birnie-Inn, not to mention Birnie Church of course.