The Dutch in Indonesia – Rhetoric and Conquest

Though a great deal of acrimonious debate took place in Holland after 1860

A few significant reforms were gradually insituted under the Liberal Policy of 1870, there was more rhetoric in the colonies that progress. True, peasants were paid wages for their labour and given legal titles wages to their land, but wages were miniscule, taxes were high, and the land belonged to a few. Privately managed plantations largely replaced government ones after 1870, but in fact some government coffee plantations continued to employ forced labour well into the 20th Century.

Outside of Java, military campaigns were undertaken, throughout the 19th Century, to extend Dutch control over areas still ruled by native kings. The most bitter battles were fought against the powerful Islamic kingdom of Aceh, during a war which began in 1873 and lasted more than 30 years. Both sides sustained horrendous losses. In the earlier “Padri War” between the Dutch and Minangkabau of west – central Sumatra (1821-38), the fighting was almost as bloody, as here too, the Dutch were pitted against Indonesian inspired by Islam.

In the east, Flores and Sulawesi were repeatedly raided and finally subdued and occupied by about 1905-6. And the success of a renegade Englishman, James Brooke, in establishing a private empire in northwestern Borneo the 1840s caused the Dutch to pay more attention to the southern and eastern coast of that island thereafter. But the most shocking incidents occurred on Lombok and Bali, where on three occasions (1894, 1906 and 1908).

Balinese rulers and their courtiers stormed headlong into Dutch gunfire armed only with ceremonial weapons – after ritualistically purifying themselves for a puputan (royal suicide) and avoiding the humiliation of defeat. In some ways, these tragic puputans symbolize tha abrupt changes wrought by the Dutch at this time, for the end of the first decade of this century they had achieved the unification of the entire Indonesian archipelago, at the expense of her indigenous kingdoms and rulers.

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