1814-1942 The colonial period

E-mail Print PDF

Civil servants, soldiers and planters
Following the liquidation of the Dutch East India Company in 1799 a new phase in relations begins between the Netherlands and the Indonesian archipelago. In 1814, the Kingdom of the Netherlands assumes sovereignty over the sparse areas that the VOC had controlled. Civil servants are needed to administer the colony, soldiers to maintain law and order and to conquer new territory. By the beginning of the 20th century the Netherlands has stamped its authority over the entire archipelago, sometimes accompanied by brute force.
Newly captured regions deliver an enormous increase in revenue from farming, mining, oil and commerce. The number of Dutch settlers as planters, civil servants or soldiers also explodes. With improved shipping-routes and frequency of sailings more Dutchwomen voyage to the Indies. A real colonisation occurs. Many signs of this colonial past can be seen in the Netherlands today. Adaptations from Indonesian cuisine like rijstafel, nasi and sate are fairly normal Dutch dishes. Colonial furniture is popular in many Dutch homes. The Dutch language features many loanwords from Indonesian: soesa (inconvenience), piekeren (ponder), and mijn pakkie-an (my affair).

The relationship between the indigenous and Dutch authority
In the 19th century the colonial administration needs many civil servants. They are trained at the Indische Instelling, an educational institute in Delft. The Dutch subdivide newly conquered areas into governments, residences, and districts. Civil servants are placed above local nobles who then feel trapped in between colonial usurpers and the indigenous population.
The colonial administration demands high yields from the land. When local rulers trying to satisfy the colonial requests then make excessive demands towards their peasants, they either revolt or move away to other regions. The local nobility are therefore constantly navigating between two opposing interests. To keep on friendly terms with Dutch civil servants many local nobles treat them with expensive gifts, extravagant feasts and hunts. The incomes of indigenous rulers can at most only partly compensate for this exorbitant lifestyle. To fill the shortfall they must regularly increase their peoples’ taxes, amounting to blatant exploitation. This troubled relationship between the Dutch and native authority is a central theme in some of the masterworks of Dutch literature, especially in the book Max Havelaar by Multituli, and in The Hidden Force written by Louis Couperous. The film version of Max Havelaar has become very popular in Indonesia. The colonisation of the Indies results in a mix of local and Dutch culture. Until the end of the 19th century it is mainly European men who go there. They often live with indigenous women (niaj), from which a mixed Indo-European population develops. Within the strict hierarchy dividing coloniser from colonised the Indo-Europeans were often the intermediaries. At this time many of them are therefore working as civil servants or soldiers serving the Dutch colonial government.

From the beginning of the 20th century colonial society starts to change, due to increasing numbers of Dutchwomen settling in the colony. Arriving with these women is their Dutch culture expressed in art, clothing and dining habits. The furniture of colonial houses is evidently intercultural. Wooden chairs and tables are manufactured in the Indies and feature indigenous motifs. Silver and copperware show the same local influences.

Cultural interaction between the Netherlands and the Indies
During the VOC period and the 1st half of the 19th century it is mainly men who voyage to the East. Indigenous women become their housekeepers or wives. Thus develops an Indo-European population. Until the mid 19th century, Indo-Europeans sometimes have very high-ranking positions. Thereafter, increasing Dutch influence in colonial society sees their privileges gradually eroded by Totoks, or full-blooded Dutch. Inversely, Dutch newcomers adapt somewhat to their location.

Their living and working environment gains an Indonesian tint. Javanese craftsmen decorate European furniture with local motifs. Examples include the sewing table from Japara and Yogyakarta silver. Women wear batik clothing with Dutch motifs. While some Totoks persist in eating potatoes, meat and vegetables, others are crazy about rijsttafel, a Dutch adaptation of Indonesian cuisine that features a choice of dishes. Past Indonesian influences are still easy to recognize in the Netherlands today. The government makes use of military might to maintain order throughout this widespread colony. The Java war (1825-1830) leads to the founding of the Royal Dutch Indonesian Legion, the KNIL. While the higher levels in the KNIL are occupied by Europeans, the rank and file are overwhelmingly indigenous, mostly Javanese or Malaccans. In the 19th century the KNIL conduct costly military operations and conquer almost the entire archipelago. The infamous occupation of North Bali (1849) and the bloody Atjeh war (1871-1913) are won at the cost of massive casualties. Many treasures are captured during the violent seizures of Lombok (1894) and South Bali (1906).

In the 2nd World War the KNIL are defeated by Japan. The prisoners of war are used as forced labour to construct railways in Thailand and Sumatra. The Japanese occupier interns all European women and children into concentration camps throughout the archipelago. Many deaths occur. Following the Japanese surrender of 15 August 1945, the KNIL attempt to restore Dutch colonial rule. Their police actions end in failure. In 1950 the KNIL is dissolved following the Dutch recognition of Indonesian Independence (December 1949).

Tea-masters, sugar-lords and coffee-barons
Following the conquest of the Indies, the colonial government pursue the exploitation of profitable ventures in coffee, tea, sugar and rubber. Among other things, the Dutch use these profits to finance the ever-costlier war with Belgium.
In 1830 the colonial government implement the Cultuurstelsel, a system of forced requisitions. The population must give up part of their harvest or work a one fifth (20%) of their land for the government. In practice the demands are much higher leading to deforestation and famine. From 1870 on Dutch private interests are able to lease land. This attracts many European entrepreneurs to take part in the Cultuur projects on Java and Sumatra. Coolies or cheap Chinese labour are hired for the heavy work. The entrepreneurs can therefore enrich themselves enormously. Following retirement they return to Holland and build expensive villas. These colonial elites are nicknamed tea-masters, sugar-lords and coffee-barons. Their way of life is well documented in the Tea-Masters by author Hella Haasse. Detailed descriptions of the colonial lifestyle can be found in the writings of Couperus, Daum, Maria Dermoût, Bep Vuyck and other authors. The Indonesian past continues to play a major role in the work of present-day writers, such as Marjon Bloem, Jeroen Brouwers, Adriaan van Dis and Rudy Kousbroek.

The opium trade
Opium forms the largest source of income for the VOC and the colonial government. It is the processed juice from unripe seedpods of poppies and is used as a relaxant and as medicine. In the 17th century the VOC becomes acquainted with this trade in eastern India. By their efforts this region becomes the largest opium-supplier for South East Asia and China. At that time it was usual to swallow the opium. The Dutch then teach the population to smoke it instead. This causes the number of users and addicts to increase dramatically. The Dutch use the revenue from opium to pay for merchandise on Java and Sumatra.
The VOC gradually gain a monopoly of the Southeast Asian opium-trade. In the 19th century the colonial government permits the cultivation of poppies on Java. An Opium law of 1893 stipulates that the Dutch state has sole control over the preparation, packaging and sale of opium. The government is therefore openly complicit in the cultivation and supply of a hard drug! This little known dark page of colonial history continued until the demise of the colonial era. 


Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 December 2011 20:46  
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Linkedin Share to Google 


There are no translations available.

Museum Nusantara is sinds zondag 6 januari 2013 gesloten.

Lees verder

Deze website maakt gebruik van cookies. Informatie over cookies