Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 19:21:27 +0200
Mailing-List: list
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 respects.
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 early 1870s.
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.

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