Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 19:21:27 +0200
Mailing-List: list Aceh-Links@egroups.com
Subject: Re: [Aceh-Links] Just wanna ask
> The essential idea of the paper is that the Aceh War is THE crucial turning
> point in the history of what became known as the Netherlands East Indies
> (Nederlands Oost Indie). Before the turn of the century (1890s-1910s) there
> really was no consolidated NEI (NOI). There were scattered pockets of "Dutch
> colonialism," but there were many, many places in the archipelago that were
> not significantly influenced by the Dutch presence, other than perhaps in
> terms of a general pattern of trade and commerce. (There were many countries
> trading in the archipelago in the nineteenth century, especially in places
> that were not politically controlled by Batavia [ = Jakarta ] or The Hague.)
I think you may have somewhat exaggerated the significance of the Aceh War
there, even though it was without doubt of great significance in several
However, the essential change in character of NEI as colony took place
not so much between 1890s and 1910s, but over a longer period beginning
around 1799 with the dissolution of the VOC, and culminated in the
agrarian reforms of the 1870s.
If one concentrates on the military aspects alone, then the wars against
Prince Diponegoro in Central Java and against the Imam of Bonjol in
Sumatra (from 1820s till 1850s if I remember correctly) were of equally
fundamental significance for that transition. And then also, though from
a different aspect, one should also accord considerable military
significance to the Dutch as well as British naval campaigns against
"piracy" throughout most of the 19th century.
But, the nature and identity of the colony was of course not primarily
defined in its military image, even if this certainly reflected the former.
In the period before 1800, the colony had very much the structure of a
traditional Malay empire: a host of subordinated territories which retained
their respective traditional indigenous economic organisations were held
together by treaties to the VOC, the overlord, represented physically in a
few fortified centers. The entire productive process remained as before.
Essentially, the VOC merely monopolized the trade in vital products.
The liberal transition resulted in immediate involvement of European
capital, technology, and organisation in the productive process, and
hence also in fundamental changes in the entire infrastructure (transport,
communication, energy, communal administration) as also in the social
structure of the indigenous population involved in the new modes of
production, transport, and administration. The colony lost its previous
lose fragmentary image, and began to consolidate towards the kind of
territorial integrity of post-feudal national states.
The reason why the process got so protracted was that, just as the
transition was to begin, Europeans got preoccupied at home with the
Napoleonic Wars. This was followed by a conservative respite, which only
let lose as a result of the revolutionary developments of 1848.
Consequence No. 1 of this circumstance was, that after the Malay and
Javanese centers of power had been deprived of their influence, the new
European ones were slow in re-establishing control over the traditional
sea people. These freebooters of former times developed into sea rovers
("pirates") who quickly gained control of the sea ways throughout the
Archipelago (the Orang Laut of Riau, the Iban of Sarawak, and the Sama-Bajau
of the Philippines and Sabah were joined by the Ilanun of Mindanao). It
was not until around mid 19th century that one finally managed to restore
a semblance of order. Needless to say, maritime security was crucial for
the territorial consolidation of an archipelagian colony.
Consequence No. 2, more interesting for us, is that the economic reform
proceeded in an inconsistent push-pull fashion. First important innovations
were introduced under Marshal Daendels (purchase of land by non-indigenous
persons, the Great Post Way) and Thomas Raffles in the British interregnum.
Van der Capellen annulled all this and reverted the situation back to that
at dissolution of the VOC. After that, one made a final attempt to
intensify production under traditional forms of organisation: the notorious
"Cultuurstelsel". The liberals, coming to power, put a stop to that, and
finally got the economic reform on the road. But they didn't bring it
to completion, striking a compromise with the conservatives in the
What were the consequences for Aceh?
Firstly, it at first gave Aceh the opportunity to become the last
traditional "Malay" sovereign, when the Sultan of Aceh, in a bid to defend
his independence before the encroaching colonial empires, succeeded in
getting several Orang Laut communities to recognize his suzerainty.
But Dutch and British colonial administrations gained the final upper
hand in this matter in the second half of the 19th century.
Secondly, in the later part of the 19th century, it turned Aceh into
a potential threat for the newly thriving plantation area around Deli
and Medan in Sumatra. Traditional ties existed between Aceh and
contiguous areas under Dutch rule or overlordship, serving as a
source of instability making risks for capital investments in the area
incalculable. War became inevitable.
Thirdly, and finally, I think, in the Aceh War, an indigenous state for
the first time faced the totally renovated Netherlands East Indies. It
was not a War between Aceh and the Netherlands, but between Aceh and
the Netherlands East Indies as a new entity. This was already in existence.
It had at its disposal the logistic potentials of mechanical workshops
(e.g. on Onrust island before Batavia, and in Surabaya), a system of coal
depots for steamers, railway repair shops, indigenous labour accustomed
to employment in steamship docks, railways, the telegraph, etc. This was
no longer the East Indies of VOC times.
> East Timor the argument was made that since East Timor was "never" part of
> the NEI it should not be part of Indonesia. (That argument, of course, needs
> to be examined in terms of the various changes in the political boundaries
> of Timor during the ninteteenth century. Some parts that were "Dutch" became
> part of the Portugese colony and some parts that were "Portugese" became
> part of the NEI, & etc.)
It's not that East Timor was NEVER part of NEI, but that it was not part
of it in the crucial period of formation of Indonesian national consciousness,
i.e. since the turn of the century as a result of the preceding economic
and territorial consolidation of NEI, but particularly as a result of
involvement of the indigenous population in the new forms of production,
transport/communication, and administration. It was not involved in that
economic and territorial consolidation of the reformed NEI to begin with.
And, of course, it was also never involved in the Indonesian movement for
independence. And, from a purely formal aspect, it was not part of the
territory, for which independence was proclaimed on August 17, 1945, that
being the territory of NEI at the time of the Japanese invasion in 1942.
> One could easily make the argument that up until about the early 1930s Aceh
> was only partially controlled by the NEI government in Batavia. The
> relationship between Aceh and the NEI was problematic right up to WWII.
Formally, of course. But for a purely formal view, the crucial point is
on one side, whether it was part of the territory, for which independence
was proclaimed in 1945 (I mean, no part of Aceh surrendered separately
to the Japanese, but all Aceh was included when Tjarda van Starkenborg
handed over NEI to the Japanese in 1942). And on the other side, perhaps
more important, it was not just a part of Aceh which rose to the defense
of the Republic when the Netherlands' forces returned in 1946, while some
other part perhaps declared itself not involved.
Back to Index