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Prepared by: Ryan M.

AB PolSci 4
Map of Indonesia during Dutch colonization. The orange
shows the regions in Indonesia which the Dutch controlled.

Indonesia was a prominent and thriving trading archipelago with distinct

social, political, and economic customs. Indonesia had a large indigenous
population that descended from the Malay peoples spread around the various
islands. Indonesia had a highly developed society with a wet field rice cultivation
that was the basis of agriculture. Their advance knowledge of navigation
allowed them to trade and interact with China, India, and Ceylon. Indonesia’s
economy functioned well through international and regional trade among the
numerous islands in Indonesia. There was a large trade of sugar, ivory, spices,
and cotton cloth. Indonesia’s politics were run by different empires or regional
rulers before the imposing of Dutch rule.
How the Dutch entered the archipelago?
Indonesia faced approximately 450 years of colonization by
Europeans. Several European countries were attracted to Indonesia
because of its exotic resources and its prime location for trade.
Indonesia had hotly coveted resources, such as spices, cloves,
nutmeg, and sugar. Portugal was the first country to arrive in the
archipelago around 1511 and Spain also entered Indonesia a few
years later, however both countries did not remain the dominant
colonizing countries, but they brought Catholicism into Indonesia. In
1602, the VOC or Netherlands’ United East India Company
(Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie), was formed.
In 1602, the Dutch founded the United Dutch East
India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie,
abbreviated VOC), with monopoly control over trade with
the Moluccas. The VOC’s early motives to colonize
Indonesia were merely commercial. They wanted to
dominate the trade in Indonesia and form a monopoly of
trade against other European countries, who they were
competing against, such as Britain. The VOC gradually
gained more control of Indonesia as it set up ports in
Batavia, Banda, Tidore, Java, and Makasa. Trading vessels
were now being replaced by warships, and the battle for the
archipelago commenced.
During the course of the 18th century the United East India
Company had established itself as the dominating economic and
political power on Java after the crumbling and collapse of the
Mataram empire.
Mismanagement, corruption and fierce competition from the
English East India Company, however, resulted in the slow demise
of the VOC towards the end of the 18th century. In 1796 the VOC
went bankrupt and was nationalized by the Dutch state. As a
consequence its possessions in the archipelago passed into the
hands of the Dutch crown in 1800. However, when the French
occupied Holland between 1806 and 1815 these possessions
were transferred to the British. After Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo
it was decided that most parts of the archipelago would return to
the Dutch.
The Cultivation System
The Dutch exploited the colony, its natural resources, and the labor
force in Indonesia. The Dutch were interested in gaining high capital
profits from the labor and resources they extracted from Indonesia. To
assure high profits, the Dutch established the Cultuurstelsel, or the
Cultivation System, a system in which peasants and famers were
forced to grow commercial crops for the Dutch and for the local
This system meant a Dutch monopoly on the cultivation of export
crops on Java. Moreover, it were the Dutch who decided what kind of
crops (and in what quantity) had to be delivered by the Javanese
peasants. Generally it meant that Javanese peasants had to hand
over one-fifth of their harvests to the Dutch.
In return the peasants received an arbitrarily fixed
compensation in cash which basically had no relation to the value
of the crop on the world market. The Dutch and Javanese officials
received a bonus when their residency delivered more crops than
on previous occasions, therefore stimulating top-down intervention
and oppression. On top of this compulsory cultivation of crops and
traditional corvee-labor services, Raffles' land tax still applied as
well. The Cultivation System turned out to be a financial success.
Between 1832 and 1852 around 19 percent of total Dutch state
income was generated from the Javanese colony. Between 1860
and 1866 this number reached around 33 percent.
The 19th century is also known as the century in which the Dutch made
substantial geographical expansion in the archipelago. Driven by the New
Imperialism-mentality, European countries were competing for colonies outside
the European continent for both economic motives and status. One important
motive for the Dutch to expand its territory in the archipelago - apart from
financial benefit - was to prevent other European countries from taking parts of
this region. The most famous and prolonged battle during this period of Dutch
expansion was the Aceh War that started in 1873 and lasted until 1913,
resulting in the deaths of more than 100,000 people. The Dutch would,
however, never have full control over Aceh. But the political integration of Java
and the Outer Islands into a single colonial polity had largely been achieved by
the start of the 20th century.
Resistance Strategies
Although Java was dominated by the Dutch, many areas remained
independent including Aceh, Bali, Lombok and Borneo.

• Wars and disturbances across the archipelago (Piracy) - Efforts of

indigenous groups to weakened the establishment of Dutch
(Java War, Aceh War, Barjarmasin War)

• Guerilla resistance – Dutch invasion during Aceh War.