Indonesia’s Claims to Papua

Oct 30th, 2010, in History, Opinion, by

Indonesia’s claim to Papua is self-contradictory. One cannot claim (as Indonesians often claim) that the Dutch presence in Indonesia was illegitimate and that the borders of the Netherlands Indies were mainly fixed by violence (as they were) and appeal to this same presence and these same borders as a basis for a legitimate Indonesian claim. The only open avowal of this inconsistency from an Indonesian that I have come across is the lecture that Dr. George Aditjondro gave some fifteen years ago for the Monash Asia Institute in Melbourne (see

Of course very much the same situation holds for other parts of Indonesia but for many of those one can, more or less convincingly, claim that they were somehow, though often only marginally, involved in the struggle for independence and that the Sukarno-Hatta declaration of the 17th of August 1945 was therefore at least implicitly accepted as being valid in and for these regions as well.

No such claim can be made for Papua. Papuans only knew Indonesians then as the Ambonnese and Keiese who served as teachers or in the lower ranks of the administration. They were by and large not popular. There was already then a definite “anti-Amberi” sentiment. Also, Papua was only partly occupied by the Japanese and these could not promote in the occupied part a nascent nationalist anti-western movement because that simply did not exist (the Koreri movement in the Biak-Numfor area was quite a different kettle of fish). Furthermore, the Americans, with some Dutch involvement, liberated Papua about one year before the Japanese surrendered in Java. Thus the Dutch administration had either been continued throughout the war or been properly restored in other parts well before the Sukarno-Hatta declaration was made.

I quote from the English language summary of the thus far most thorough study of the preliminaries of the so-called “Act of Free Choice”, that which Professor Pieter Drooglever was commissioned to write by the then Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Aartsen (“Een Daad van Vrije Keuze” 2005):

“The development of Indonesian nationalism entirely passed the Papuans by … (also) New Guinea had, in most respects, a different occupation history than the rest of Indonesia. It was only partially occupied. The Dutch influence continued to prevail in the south and in the interior. The occupation was also shorter and the island was liberated by the American army in the middle of 1944 already. The Dutch were also involved in this, and quickly took the administration back into their own hands. As a result, the restoration of power took place well before the independent Indonesian Republic was proclaimed on Java on 17 August 1945.”

I wish to say more about this.


100 Comments on “Indonesia’s Claims to Papua”

  1. timdog says:


    My apologies for the delayed reply. I had a visitor at the weekend, and then had some stuff I really had to catch up on, and continuing an indulgent sparring match with you rather dropped off the radar.
    But it would be ungentlemanly, not to mention rude, to stand you up, so…

    At risk of continuing an aspect of the discussion that will lead us nowhere, I would point out that by bringing – good grief! – the Philippines into the discourse, and by raising the idea of citizens of post-colonial states who allegedly hark back nostalgically to the good old days when the big white massa ran the show with all the upright decency he was capable of, is only likely to add more grist to the mills of those who might suspect that for you that Position A that I outlined somewhere up the thread is indeed a fixed ideology that informs your outlooks and your starting points.

    If you would like to organise a free and fair referendum in each of the post-colonial states asking the inhabitants if they would like to be under a system of government in which there is no democracy and in which the supreme administrative power rests in the hands of a non-indigenous and racially discrete minority who, it seems likely, will be in possession of rather more codified rights – and certainly more privileges – than them, and if most of them answer yes, then perhaps I’ll be able to work with this idea. If not, ah, malheureusment non…

    The vast, vast, vast majority of Indonesians, from village level up, are very well aware that there was a Zaman Belanda. The younger ones might have slightly crude ideas about what it involved, but to suggest that significant numbers of them might not know that it existed or at least the name of the nation involved is just silly.
    Which leads me to your gnawing of the Orwell line…

    Arie, if you look at, let’s say to keep things nice and narrow, Javanese history from a very early stage you’ll find an identifiable thread of hostility and resistance to the Dutch presence. From the mid-16th Century onwards the VOC were involved in Mataram, but though a long succession of kings turned to their services again and again like the most woeful of addicts, there was a concurrent element of hostility to their presence, of usually inept attempts to give up the habit. This was often only passive but not always, and, judging from how readily violence could be directed against the Europeans, had a popular as well as courtly element.
    From the early 19th Century you’ll find modes and discourses of hostility to the Dutch based on orthodox Islamic ideas, based on Javanese mystical or proto-nationalist ideas (or, as in the case of Diponegoro, on bits of all of the above and more), and also based on straightforward non-ideological issues of discontent.
    Go and look at all the other major colonial projects and you’ll find the equivalent threads, all of which long pre-date the engaged, organised 20th Century nationalisms and the new emerging indigenous elites that drove them.
    All of which makes me fairly confident that yes, however you want to deconstruct or reconstruct Orwellian quotes, people generally just don’t like being governed by foreigners (Papuans very much included, obviously), no matter what they might say as a means of expressing dissatisfaction with their own indigenous governments several generations later.

    At which stage I will point out that I have a great deal negative to say about Indonesia in general, particularly about the country’s approaches to its own history (though there’s a grudging sense of awe at how well the forgers of the nation have played this game), and I’m quite happy to agree that Papua is a pretty ugly situation (going back to my first line of criticism, Indonesia’s very claims to the place seem designed to invalidate any suggestion that the nation is anything more than a piece of colonial mapmaking).
    However, I see no need for hyperbole in criticism of a current regime that – on a national level, rather than specifically in Papua – actually scrubs up reasonably well on many issues (not least those of basic democracy) by the standards of the region and the past.

    Finally, if you get upset by me wheeling out gouty old colonels (or Asiatic despots, which I also keep a stock of, you might not have noticed) from time to time, you should be aware that I’m an odd sort of fellow; the ghost of Rudyard Kipling sits on my right shoulder, and the ghost of Edward Said sits on my left. I don’t really listen to either of them that closely, but occasionally I slip my tongue into my cheek and engage in the most outrageous misappropriations of what they say to me, just for my own amusement… Don’t take it too seriously…

  2. timdog says:

    Hey! I’m doing that Arie Brand thing! That’ll be 17th Century up there in line 3 of par 5…

  3. Arie Brand says:

    Timdog, I will soon respond to your post but first this from the Jakarta Post of yesterday (more particulars can be found at

    ‘Leaked’ file shows civilians targeted in Papua

    The Jakarta Post | Thu, 11/11/2010 9:38 AM | National A | A | A |

    JAKARTA: US freelance journalist Allan Nairn claimed he got hold of a leaked document containing an intelligence report on the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) that showed a targeted list of civilians in Papua allegedly involved in a separatist group.

    The 2007 document was published on Tuesday by Nairn in his blog,
    Allan says in his blog the document revealed that Kopassus engaged in “murder [and] abduction” and showed that the red-beret force targeted churches in Papua.
    The front page of the document indicated this information came from a three-monthly report of a small Kopassus’ taskforce in Kotaraja, an area in Jayapura, the capital city of the Papua province.

    The document, written in Indonesian, shows a list of 19 unarmed civilians who were allegedly involved in the separatist movement. The list included Christian priests, NGO activists, members of Papua People Assembly (MRP), and students.
    According to the document, these people “are allegedly obsessed with Papua Freedom, influencing people to promote the separation of Papua from Indonesia.”
    The target of the operation is mentioned in the concluding part of the document, saying that the taskforce would “weaken the influence and power” of these people and “carry out divisive actions” against these groups.

    Indonesian Military (TNI) spokesman Maj. Gen. Aslizar Tanjung refused to comment on the document.

    “I’m in China. I have no idea [about the document],” he told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday. — JP

  4. rustyprince says:

    Arie, Can you respond to Anon’s claim that the Dutch planned for West Papua to be an alternative tropical homeland for the Indo-Dutch reluctant to remain in newly independent Indonesia, or latterly forced out of the archipelago by the bellicose Sukarno.
    You touched upon this in your paste of the treatise you’d issued on Papua for the Australian institute.
    Also, if I may, can you speculate how a mass movement of Dutch would have impacted upon the native Papuan population. I’m asking this with regard to the over-representation of Indo-Dutch among the xenophobic ‘looney-cons’ within Holland, as displayed by you on Oigals posting.

    Reading a second time your evidence here I believe I was too lenient, by quite a distance, on Indonesia’s nefarious activities within Papua. But, but….what is best now is to find an acceptable system of equality/respect within the current framework. I also believe, well hope! Indonesia’s involvement in Papua will be of greater benefit than the Chinese mercantilist and rapacious takeover of the other Papua which is currently under way.

  5. Arie Brand says:

    Rusty this is a matter of copy and paste of one of my posts for Australian Webdiary. So here goes:

    Papua as Indo-European ‘homeland’

    Dr Aditjondro, who is still my whipping boy here because I believe he holds views on this issue that are widely shared by other Indonesian commentators, is misguided on another point as well – the ‘Indo-European homeland’ theme. He believes that the strong desire to reserve a homeland for Dutch Eurasians was another reason for excluding Papua from the transfer of sovereignty. In my view he has stressed this point far too heavily.

    This requires some explanation. Though about two thirds of the pre-Second World European population of Indonesia was of mixed ancestry, only a minority of those were regarded as true Indo-Europeans. These were in the first place people of whom one of the parents (generally the mother) was fully Indonesian. They were, if they had been officially recognised by their European parent, classified as Europeans. This was not in all respects an advantage. For one thing, they were not allowed to own land, a right that colonial legislation had reserved for truly indigenous Indonesians (land exploiting companies got around this through long term leases).

    Thus they were generally employed in some administrative position. When, however, more and more educated Indonesians gradually started to take these over, the idea came up to provide a homeland exclusively for them. This was to be Papua.

    Happily the idea was never popular among them. The New Guinea movement of A Th Schalk represented before the war only an insignificant minority within the Indo-European Association. The leaders of the IEV (Indo-European Association) reacted to his ideas by saying that if Indo-Europeans were deemed to be tough enough to cope with the jungles of New Guinea there was indeed nothing to fear for them if they stayed in Java. (Van der Veur (1961) De Indo-Europeaan: probleem en uitdaging in Baudet, H. and Brugmans, L.J. (eds.) Balans van beleid – Terugblik op de laatste halve eeuw van Nederlands Indie , Assen – The Indo European – Problem and Challenge in Baudet, H. & Brugmans, LJ (eds) Account of our policy – looking back at the last half century of the Netherlands Indies).

    It is true that in his comments on the Linggajati-agreement the then Minister for Overseas Territories, JA. Jonkman declared, on 10th December 1946, in parliament that in West New Guinea ‘the possibility should be kept open for a larger settlement of Dutch people, particularly the Indo European Dutch’, but he also said, at the same point in his speech, that New Guinea too should be able to choose its own status in relation to the Kingdom (new style) and the United States of Indonesia ‘though it is perhaps still difficult for the indigenous population to express itself on this point’ ( Van Baal J. (1989) Ontglipt verleden, VolII p156 – The past that has slipped away). Jonkman apparently didn’t see an inconsistency here and, according to Van Baal, it was never signalled as such from the Indonesian side in the negotiations at the Round Table Conference (1989 Vol II, p171).

    Also, Jonkman seems to have spoken about this largely from the top of his head. In the ‘Commissie Generaal’, the commission of three that in 1946 was sent to the Indies to assist the then highest Dutch dignitary there, the lieutenant Governor-General Dr HJ van Mook, in the negotiations with the Indonesians, there was great scepticism on this point. One member of this commission, the labor politician and ex- Prime Minister Professor Schermerhorn, wrote about this:

    Later New Guinea was regarded as a possible refuge for the Indo-Europeans, for whom there seemed no longer to be any place in an independent Indonesia. When I spoke about this in the ‘Commissie-Generaal’ with Van Mook we quickly came to the conclusion that New Guinea was totally unsuitable for this. Indo-Europeans would certainly not be prepared to start digging in the ground there – they would prefer to leave that to others (Gase R (1984) Misleiding of zelfbedrog p5 – Deception or self-deception – my translation, AB.)

    These two themes, the homeland theme and the theme of self-determination, were originally intertwined but already before 1949 the former one became less urgent while the latter one increased in importance.

    The idea to find a new territory for Indo Europeans thus played initially a role, to be sure, but never a very important one and already in August 1949 the theme of self-determination could be mentioned in the Dutch parliament as a goal in itself without a link to the homeland theme (more of that below).

    Dr Aditjondro however, when he got into full stride on this theme, referred to the 1600 or so deluded Indo-European settlers, who were dumped on the beach of Manokwari in the last days of 1949, as the ‘gelombang pertama’ (the first wave) of the Indo-European colonists. This term suggests that this group of stragglers constituted the first part of some substantial migratory movement. The opposite is the case. That the Dutch cared in reality very little about this migration was already clear from the total lack of preparation for this pitiable group. This was not a matter of logistic incapacity. They had, after all, housed and fed an army of more than one hundred thousand men in various parts of the archipelago over the last few years and were then still doing so. It was, rather, testifying to a lack of real concern. Indo-European settlers in New Guinea never reached a higher number than three thousand or so (Van Baal, 1989 II, p.161). The Dutch members of the mixed Indonesian-Dutch New Guinea (Irian) Committee of 1950 were then already of the opinion that such Indo-Europeans as were present in West Papua should gradually merge in the indigenous population. A Dutch parliamentary mission rejected, in 1953, definitely the idea of West Papua as a home for Indo-Europeans. Even in 1957, when, at the behest of Sukarno, the great exodus of Indo-Europeans from Indonesia started, there was never any serious talk of letting them settle in West Papua. A few hundred thousand of them ultimately settled in Holland.


  6. rustyprince says:

    Ok Arie, on the evidence presented here, and I’m not in a position to contradict it, it seems that the ‘liberal’ ascendancy had taken place within Dutch polity and that their prime motivation was not in obstructing Indonesia’s recognized legitimacy and integrity but instead, the welfare of a small, but exclusive, underdeveloped Melanesian grouping within a huge ‘alien’ totality.
    That’s what I originally interpreted in your posting and not a neo-coloninalist rant. Countering you with this accusation suggests an certain level of insecurity among Indonesian Patriots. Come colonialism ended 60yrs ago, become a stronger democracy and fulfill the principles of Pancasila.

  7. Yudi Setiawan says:

    Sorry I digress.But,I think that this site is tirelessy full of Western point of Views and thinks that Those kind of views are always right.And I suspect that this site is also smuggling atheism by the back door.
    I love Indonesia and Indonesia matters.

  8. Arie Brand says:

    I wrote in my previous post regarding the recognition as Europeans of children of an Indonesian mother and European father:

    This was not in all respects an advantage. For one thing, they were not allowed to own land, a right that colonial legislation had reserved for truly indigenous Indonesians (land exploiting companies got around this through long term leases).

    This formulation is imprecise. It should have been: “legislation for the colony”. The law concerned was the Agrarian Law of 1870, a product of the Dutch cabinet and parliament. Colonial legislation had the form of ‘ordonnanties’ decided on by Governor-General and the “Council of the Indies” (and later also with a mainly consultative contribution of the so-called “Volksraad” or “People’s Council”).

  9. Arie Brand says:

    P.S. land possession by non-indigenous inhabitants of the Indies after the Agrarian Law of 1870 – as far as I know, existing ownership was recognised.

  10. Arie Brand says:

    Timdog you wrote:

    If you would like to organise a free and fair referendum in each of the post-colonial states asking the inhabitants if they would like to be under a system of government in which there is no democracy and in which the supreme administrative power rests in the hands of a non-indigenous and racially discrete minority who, it seems likely, will be in possession of rather more codified rights – and certainly more privileges – than them, and if most of them answer yes, then perhaps I’ll be able to work with this idea. If not, ah, malheureusment non

    Such examples as I discussed (the so called Twapro movement in the Minahasa and the movement aiming at statehood for the Philippines within the US Federation) did not have to do with just a continuation of the colonial situation.

    Nevertheless I will, just for the sake of argument, discuss the exercise suggested by you but propose to limit it to Indonesia and to stick to terms that are closer to the daily experience of the great majority of Indonesians. So no talk of “democracy”, “codified rights” and “supreme administrative power” but rather of things that have to do with the following observations:

    Today there is no talk of revolution, but there’s a lot of bitter complaining. Among poor people I’ve met, the terms of art are “dogs” for the POLRI police, and “sadists” for the TNI army, navy, air force and marines. Its a term the soldiers have no doubt heard themselves, since they actually, on their website, ran a photo of army officers giving gifts to children, over the memorable caption : “Is It True The TNI Is Sadist?” ( “Benarkah TNI Sadis?”, web page: “Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Darat, The Indonesian Army, Galeri Foto, Arsip Foto, Juni, Agustus, Oktober,” online as of September 7, 2005, but later wisely taken down).

    You never really own anything if you’re poor. Its just a matter of time. You accumulate a little property and, then, if you’re unlucky, somebody steals it, or the police escort a bulldozer in, and simply level the house. But if you’re luckier, you’re compelled to sell (or pawn) your property to pay a series of, say, important bribes for which you actually get something in return, in this case the right of that locked-up son to eat soft rice instead of hard rice so that, on the way down, it doesn’t get stuck in his throat and trigger his fits of fainting asthma. That payoff costs about 70 US cents per meal, in addition to garbage money, key money, do-not-break-his-nose-this-week money, let-your-mother -visit money, toilet visit money, and 11 other kinds of money, if I counted correctly.

    But today, in the house, as we all talked, the one they really felt for was the poor washerwoman down the alley who makes $18 a month and couldn’t pay the bribe to get her son a cell — a room about the size of an American kitchen, which accommodates 30 guys. So the authorities locked him, squatting, in the toilet — a very slippery hole in the floor. That’s where he’ll live until she comes across. He’ll have a lot of visitors.

    From Allan Nairn “Duduk-Duduk, Ngobrol-Ngobrol – Sitting around talking in Indonesia.” In Counterpunch Nov.19 2007

    And another aspect that’s very important, apart from the mass slaughters in places like Timor, Aceh, Papua, the Moluccas, there’s also the daily life of the poor. For many poor communities in Indonesia, it’s like living in occupied territory, with the police and the preman, the police- and military-linked thugs. They sell drugs. They do extortion rackets. There’s no law. If someone robs your house, you can’t go to the police. The police will demand bribe money from you. The police are hired by rich people to tear down poor neighborhoods, to evict poor women from their markets so new developments can be put up. People are living without basic law and order, –

    Allan Nairn on 101 East:

    And now some figures about the strength of the police and army in the last decades of colonial rule and their present strength. I took the pre-war figures, plus census figures, from G.F.E.Gonggrijp(ed.), Geillustreerde Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch-Indie, Leiden 1934. Since the numbers of pre-war police and army hold for the period around 1930 I also took the census figures of that year. The numbers for the present day Indonesian police and army I got from Wikipedia.

    The strength of all segments of the police force in the whole of the Indies was 32,561 – the proposed strength of the colonial army was in 1925: 33,262. According to Dr.Marieke Bloembergen (De Geschiedenis van de Politie in Nederlands Indie – The History of the Police in the Netherlands Indies – Boom, 2009) the police consisted at the beginning of the thirties for 93 % of indigenous personnel. The large majority of army personnel was also Indonesian.

    Present day numbers are for Polri: 540,000, for Brimob: 39,000, for the Civil Service Police Unit and the University Student regiment: 26,000. Altogether: 605,000.

    The strength of the present day armed forces is Army: 328,517, Navy: 74,963 and Airforce: 34,930. Altogether: 438, 410.

    Indonesia had according to the Census of 1930 altogether 60,731,025 inhabitants (including 242,372 Europeans and 1,344,878 “Foreign Orientals”). Today it has according to the CIA World Fact Book (2010 est.) 242,968,342 inhabitants.

    Thus the population has since 1930 increased by the factor 4.

    The police has, however, increased by approx. the factor 20 (to drive home the point: the police is today proportionately five times bigger than it was in the last decades of colonial rule).

    The armed forces have increased by the factor 13 (and are hence proportionately at least three times bigger than they were in colonial times).

    Question: what is the relation between the size of armed forces and police and nation wide suppression?

    Now to illustrate my “circulation of elites” thesis (the idea that the main thing happening in gaining independence was that things remained overall much the same except that an exploitative foreign elite was replaced by a possibly more exploitative indigenous elite less restrained by law and considerations of human rights) I will give the following quote from the Australian historian Robert Cribbs in the introduction to a book he edited: “The late Colonial State in Indonesia”, KITLV Press, Leiden 1994:

    The notion that independent Indonesia inherited much from the colonial Netherlands Indies is now a well-established truism. Not everyone is as bold as Benedict Anderson in drawing a line more or less directly from Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the seventeenth century founder of Dutch power in the archipelago, to President Suharto…, but many structures of the contemporary Indonesian state bear a strong resemblance to the institutions which took shape in the final century of colonial rule.

    Question: has ‘transformasi’ made much difference to this?

    And now for the reformulated question:

    Will you opt for independence which means that the type of state you live in will remain much the same but that you will have a flag that you can call ‘your’ flag, a national anthem that you can cal ‘your’ national anthem, a country that you can call ‘your’ country but with, on the other hand, also the following conditions: your chance of meeting a policeman will increase roughly fivefold, and a member of the armed forces threefold; your chance of such meetings having somehow unpleasant consequences for you will increase very much more than that; however your chance of warding of such consequences by appealing to authority will be much diminished; in short you will be free but somehow experience that your country seems much more occupied than before – however we will soon make you forget this by telling horror stories about the time that you were not free yet such as the fact that in Dutch times unruly plantation hands were drawn and quartered (Allan Nairn tells this in all seriousness in the article I got the above quotes from – when you get your information by “duduk duduk – ngobrol ngobrol” you might get it right about the present which you can, after all, observe yourself – but can end up woefully misinformed about the past).

    Well Timdog, I agree with you: the majority will opt for this ‘national identity’ that they share with those who mistreat and exploit them.

  11. timdog says:

    Arie, in an attempt for once to keep things moderately succinct:

    Reading your last post what I have been trying through all these hundreds of words to express to you finally crystalised as this:
    You have for some reason – possibly inadvertently – forged an rigid link, a connection, a blurring or a confusion even, between your energetic criticisms of the modern regimes of independent Indonesia, and your position that Dutch colonialism in the East Indies has been misrepresented as much worse than it really was.
    This does you no favours, clouds your arguments, and is likely to generate hostility from many Indonesians and non-Indonesians alike, who might otherwise listen to you more attentively. I can say no more on the topic than that.


    Alan Nairn is, while a brave and remarkable journalist, someone who has an ideology and an agenda, and who appears to frame all of his approaches to Indonesia against East Timor (which, it seems, is also what you do using Papua). East Timor was never representative of all of Indonesia (and neither is the Suharto regime the current government of the country, by the way).

    I have no desire to be shunted by shrill voices into the shoes of a champion and apologist for any Indonesian regime. Certainly not. However, as someone who (forgive my presumption) probably does a great deal more sitting-sitting chatting-chatting with Indonesians at kampung level these days than you, I would suggest that Nairn has a habit of deploying what I have no doubt are genuine voices to generate an impression of “the daily experience of the great majority of Indonesians” that is at best a touch hyperbolic.

    Of course, that’s not to say that, as unfortunately is the case in most countries, including until not so long ago many European ones, the police in Indonesia are not a group of people most people would choose to avoid if they can help it. Which leads me, to lighten the mood, to listen for a moment to one of those two ghosts sitting on my shoulders [I’m not in the habit of quoting other people in online forums; life is too short, and nothing is uglier that intellectual bulimia, but this is just for fun]:

    ‘Nothing here but a parcel of holy-bolies,’ said the Englishman [a senior colonial police officer, accompanied by a larger body of native juniors] aloud, and passed on amid a ripple of uneasiness; for native police mean extortion to the native all India over.

    I have little doubt that things were much the same in the Dutch East Indies too…


    I don’t quite understand your final point, by the way. Is it that “the natives” are stupid? That all people the world over are stupid (except Arie Brand)? Is this your response to my point about identifiable threads of resistance and hostility to foreign colonialism being identifiable from the earliest stages of the project?

  12. Arie Brand says:


    You seem to worry a great deal more about my credibility than I do myself. As to the link between my criticism of the present Indonesian dispensation and the misrepresentation of the colonial past: there definitely is one. The poor deal that Indonesians have been given has, inter alia, been defended by the suggestion that they had an infinitely poorer one in the past. Misinformation bothers me – whether it is about this or the Palestinian question or climate change (through biographical coincidence these have been the most obvious to me ).

    Alan Nairn is, while a brave and remarkable journalist, someone who has an ideology and an agenda, …

    I have no desire to be shunted by shrill voices …

    For heavens sake, another one with an ideology. Is this always the first thing you come up with when you disagree? And what is he “brave and remarkable” or “shrill” (or both)?

    Well you do “sitting-sitting, chatting-chatting” and so do others on this blog. I remember that Madrotter thought, on an earlier occasion, that Nairn got it exactly right. I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him on this. My opportunities for gathering this type of information myself are well and truly gone.

    I’m not in the habit of quoting other people in online forums; life is too short,

    What does that mean? That you have no time to brief yourself? We all have opinions – they come a dime a dozen. I like to see these backed up with solid information and endeavour to provide this myself. And then it is just a matter of intellectual good manners to indicate the source.

    And as far as that quote from Kipling (?) is concerned: if you were worried about briefing yourself you might not jump so lightly from British India to colonial Indonesia.

    I don’t quite understand your final point, by the way. Is it that “the natives” are stupid? That all people the world over are stupid (except Arie Brand)?

    Can’t you do any better? I thought it to be fairly obvious that I was hinting at the fact that ‘nationalism’ has trumped ‘class interest’ in almost any situation in modern history that I can think of. Do you remember the socialist hope that the “international solidarity of the working class” would prevent the coming about of the first World War? No, they all went off to be slaughtered – for their country.

    And as to me not being so stupid : there is a difference between being an observer and commentator and being a participant. The countless people who have regretfully commented on this particular form of stupidity have not implied, that given the same circumstances, they would not have suffered from it.

    Is this your response to my point about identifiable threads of resistance and hostility to foreign colonialism being identifiable from the earliest stages of the project?

    Ah, I believe that the emphasis on these phenomena now also fits into the post-independence rewriting of history. I think it quite unlikely that in the time of the VOC the indigenous grandees would think of its activities as “foreign colonialism”. The VOC was just one of the players to be acted against or acted with, depending on the circumstances. The very term ‘foreign colonialism’ is, when applied to that period, an anachronism.

    But that has not deterred Indonesian historians. One of the first things that Professor Sartono did after or during his study with Wertheim was to look at peasant resistance – though, admittedly, for a period when the concept “foreign colonialism” was probably actively entertained by a few. As to Wertheim himself: I can swear to you that he once made the point, in a lecture, that, at any case in Java, the Dutch regime was accepted, for a long time and by the bulk of the population, as legitimate. If that had not been the case, he said, it could not have lasted a day – given the overwhelming numbers on the indigenous side. I think that the relatively small numbers of the “forces of law and order”
    also point in this direction.

    However, it is painful to have to accept that foreign rule (to the tani, away from the high road and not involved in European agriculture at any case hardly noticeable as Friedericy remarked) was accepted for so long without much active resistance.

    I have no desire to argue with you about this at greater length. If I merely come with my opinions you will dismiss them as, once again, inspired by my ‘ ideology’. If I buttress them with quotes from others you will hint at ‘intellectual bulimia’.

    I felt I had to crack some fairly hard nuts here. But as far as I am concerned: sans rancune.

  13. Arie Brand says:

    It occurs to me that I could have provided a much better example in recent Western history of the relative strength of nationalism and class interest as motive forces. How could a party of disreputable political adventurers as that of the German “National Socialists” vanquish a well entrenched and intellectually much better armed political left? The answer seems to be that the Nazis played successfully the nationalist card.

    As far as national liberation movements are concerned: there is almost everywhere a, from one point of view ridiculous, from another tragic, discrepancy between the energy, the blood, sweat and tears, the sacrifices expended on that struggle and the actual result that seems to have been in most cases hijacked by a new elite. What is the point of all those “alarums and excursions” if they result in very much the same situation, in some respects a situation that is actually worse?

    It is by now a truism that Indonesia has had a national but not a social revolution. Whether this would have been any different if in the early rope pulling between the respective proponents of “diplomasi” and “perjuangan” the latter would have prevailed is a matter of historical speculation.

  14. Naga says:

    Same story with Nagaland and Mizoram in India, they are mongolian people, who are more closely related to Chinese tribes than Indians. Thousands have perished in the Nagaland conflict over 60 years. The Naga-India conflict is among the most brutal and forgotten conflicts, pitting Naga Christian Tribals against Indian Hindu soldiers.

  15. Arie Brand says:

    It seems to me that to understand how the main ‘movers and shakers’ of the revolution, in the first place Sukarno, looked at the moral value of nationalism, any nationalism, that the following story from Ben Anderson is quite revealing. One can find it in James Siegel’s introduction to the ‘Festschrift’ for Anderson:

    Ben Anderson introduces The Spectre of Comparisons with an anecdote about himself, Sukarno, and a diplomat whom he does not identify. Sukarno is speaking, and Ben is translating for the diplomat. Sukarno speaks of Hitler and the Third Reich. The Third Reich is not the result of mass murder and world war. It is, in Sukarno’s language, a nationalist paradise. Hitler, for his part, is neither a murderer, nor an anti-Semite, nor a fascist. The Third Reich becomes a nationalist paradise. The diplomat does not believe what Sukarno is saying. “Are you sure that’s really what he is saying”?. Ben is sure. I think I might have doubted my linguistic capacity in that circumstance., but Ben is a true polyglot, and he is not in the habit of denying much. It is what Sukarno is saying. Ben tries to explain how it would be reasonable to say such a thing. But the diplomat returns to his embassy, furious and convinced that Sukarno was “a demented and dangerous mountebank”. No matter how diplomatic the man was, he could not find what Sukarno said reasonable. Ben himself had difficulty “I felt a kind of vertigo”. But the vertigo comes not merely from the outrageousness of Sukarno’s thought. It came from understanding Sukarno’s reasonableness once one understood that Sukarno saw Europe “through an inverted telescope”. The possibility of another reason, one bearing on the most serious matters, questions of life and death, one says without exaggeration, moved Ben outside his normal European perspective.

    One wonders however whether other leading figures of that time such as Hatta and Sjahrir thought about these matters along the same line. It is true that Hatta had been, with Sukarno, at the top of the Japanese organized Hokokai during the Japanese occupation. But he had also, unlike Sukarno, spent considerable time in Europe before the war. Sjahrir, of course, had been there as well and had kept his distance from the Japanese.

  16. ET says:

    Pardon my ignorance but who’s robbing whom? And what’s the worth of natural resources if there is nobody willing and able to make use of them? Should the gold that Freeport is extracting and make them among Indonesia’s biggest tax contributors stay in the ground? Wouldn’t these taxes better be spent and administered on and by local people and provide them with the necessary education to take future matters into their own hands?

  17. suta says:

    Majority of ex colonialism country want to unified in other form like euro, Nato, ect. They want to sustainable of their superiority in the world. Multilateral or unilateral action to gag of vocal form under developing countries by embargo, military action, and soon. For transition country like end of Yugoslavia and end of Uni Soviet at 1990, Indonesia end of 1999, International/multilateral pressure can separated of its country (liberation of Bosnia, Georgia and many, and East Timor from mine country). Transition era in Indonesia is very slow and wasting time, this moment by used to International NGO/activist or countries to pressure Indonesian policy. So, for what they do that?

  18. rustyprince says:

    Re, how former colonies view their ‘oppressors’ can I bring Cambodia into the mix. Back in the 90s I spend a year on the banks of the Mekong, and after breaking a leg in a motor accident I frequented the library and devoured the small english section. Well the impression garnered from these sources + the Phnom Penh Post and engagement with the Khmers themselves was that hostility to the French was almost non-existent. There was no significant struggle for independence as in Vietnam and Indonesia and King Sihanouk must have been one of the most francophile individuals on the planet. Many of the most ‘talented’ youth after 1958 journeyed to France for further education thus maintaining the relationship. Included in this brain-pool was Pol Pot and many of the future Kmher Rouge intelligentsia who ironically probably only came to a radical critique of rapacious colonialism and avowal of Maoism as a result of this continuing fraternity between the ‘subjudcated’ and ‘subjudcator’.
    Now to my main point – from the various insights I gathered while convalescing I came to the conclusion that Kmhers didn’t have a problem with the French colonial history because if it wasn’t for that very self-serving engagement along the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap, Cambodia, would have been an abstract term lost in the realms of history. In other words, Vietnam and the Thais to the west would have systematically carved up the land and incorporated all vestiges of Kmherness into their respective cultural mosaics.
    Now given that Indonesia as it came currently constituted should there not be a degree of if not ‘appreciation’ then, at least, acknowledgement that Dutch efforts/perseverance/ingenuity/superior application of diplomacy brought this great nation from Sabang ke Merauke to materialize.
    And if so why not let Dutch nationals look nostalically upon their time in the tropics.
    Ps. I’m ready to defend my radical essence if need be.

  19. rustyprince says:

    Does anyone know why there was such reluctance by the Dutch/VOC to consolidate their presence by strenghtening the legal supports of the Indo-Dutch? I’m thinking here of full right of ownership of assets.
    Was this to do with observing the Spanish ‘mission’ in Latin America and how an elite pure European or mixed race oligarchy were able to attach themselves to the altar of nationalism and undermine the Spanish crown below the Rio-Grande?
    The Dutch, themselves for a time under the unwanted yolk of Madrid, probably like all clever subjects learnt from this experience to prolong their sojourn in the tropics.
    Just one other query – how did the above elites in Latin America, who racially exempted themselves from all contact with the Indian majority, except as overseeer, avoid the description of proto-aparteith racists?
    Could it be that Indonesians are fortunate that it was the Dutch who colonized them?

  20. Arie Brand says:


    The Agrarian Law of 1870 had as its main aim to open up Indonesia to Western exploitation without this leading to large scale alienation of indigenous land possession. Thus western enterprise could obtain hereditary tenure of “domain ground” (uncultivated land to which there was no indigenous claim). The law also allowed the limited rent, for periods from five to twenty years, of rice fields either from individual owners or village communities. But the sale of indigenous land to non-Indonesians was not allowed.

    Your hypothesis that this was to disempower Indo-Europeans (who might be tempted, so your hypothesis goes, to declare independence) is ingenious but has no basis in fact. The South American colons could declare independence on their own behalf because they had either murdered the indigenous population or forced them back to fairly inaccessible parts of the country. This was, of course, never the case in Indonesia. The colonial government did worry some times about mutterings among Indo Europeans (it overreacted, for instance, to a fairly innocuous protest gathering in 1848) but over time it came to worry much more about indigenous nationalism.

    As to the reputation of the coloniser: I think it is a fact that, comparatively speaking, it is worse than in most of the surrounding countries. Is this deserved? I think not but I will not go now into the possible reasons for this situation.

  21. Arie Brand says:

    I should have specified that opening the country up to Western enterprise meant, in this case, private enterprise. Before 1870 there had of course been governmental exploitation of the land through the so-called cultivation system. The 1870 Agrarian Law sounded the death knell of that system which had lasted, all in all, not more than forty years.

  22. ET says:

    Arie Brand

    The 1870 Agrarian Law sounded the death knell of that system which had lasted, all in all, not more than forty years.

    Can you elaborate on the role the short British interregnum under Raffles has played in the abolition of the cultivation system?

  23. Arie Brand says:

    Raffles decided on the basis of a 1813 report, drawn up by a committee headed by a Colonel Colin Mackenzie and having three Dutch officials, who had entered British service, as members, that the Sovereign (and his legitimate successor i.e. the colonial government) was the sole owner of the land and that individual cultivators merely had the usufruct. His landrent system was based on that idea. His ideal was to have individual taxation based on land possession but the Dutch “Commission General”, which had to bring order into affairs after his departure, found that that system was unworkable because the basic information required was lacking. There was no land registry in any shape or form. So Raffles well intentioned aim to cut out the often arbitrary intervention of the Chiefs could not be realised.

    Raffles did also not prohibit the alienation of indigenous land to non-indigenous outsiders.

    The abolition of the cultivation system did not have to do with its replacement by land rent as the main source of revenue for the state. By then many other sources of revenue had been developed and the hope was that the development of private enterprise would greatly contribute to this.

    One could perhaps argue that the abolition of the cultivation system did away with one possible source of arbitrariness and that, to that extent, one of Raffles’ guiding ideals had come closer to realisation.

  24. Arie Brand says:

    Some form of the landrent system continued to exist. But the complications of Raffles’ system did not only have to do with land measurement. The tax was also based on the land’s productivity in the form of rice and since there were wide variations in this the idea was to have a threefold division of fields. The civil service apparatus to measure and control all that simply did not exist, neither in Raffles’ time nor later. In actual practice the later system amounted to a sort of bargaining with village heads and other worthies.

  25. Arie Brand says:

    ET, the question of Raffles’ influence on later writings about agrarian law could easily serve as the basis for a Ph.D.thesis. The idea that the oriental prince was the sole owner of the land, does not come from him (it had spooked in European literature at least since the writings of Francois Bernier, the personal physician of Aurangzeb) but his views on agrarian law in general can even be found back in Marx’s opinions on the ‘Asiatic Mode of Production’ (he ranks among the writers Marx refers to) and have certainly confused many later Dutch commentators.

    I think that the great Leiden specialist on Indonesian customary law, Professor Cornelis van Vollenhoven, finally laid the idea of the prevalence of princely land property to rest. Wertheim (who was at one stage Professor of Law at the School of Law in pre-war Batavia) explicitly refers to his views as authoritative in his article on South East Asia in the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.

    You can find the core of Van Vollenhoven’s views on this point in a short 1918 article of his in the “Bijdragen …”. I believe you can read Dutch (that, in fact, you are Dutch) so here is the address:

    I believe that Timdog is also interested in this matter and will therefore translate some paragraphs that indicate Van Vollenhoven’s to me perfectly logical point of view: “Only in two cases could the manner to find out about “old Javanese agrarian law” take its point of departure from the ideas of the Javanese princes concerning law and their legal institutions. In the first place if princely government in Java were as old, or even older, than the right to the land of the population; thus if princely government in Java had encountered a vacuum as far as rights to the land were concerned and had filled this vacuum with its own views and measures. I presume that nobody would want to support this view … The second of these supposed cases would occur if, indeed an ancient right of the population to the soil had preceded princely government, but had been forced out by the strength of this government. Even those who presume that the princes had this power for the direct environment of their court (the core regions of the realms Mataram, Tjerbon, Banten) will hesitate to believe that they were able to force out and old indigenous right even in the most remote regions of their realm.”

  26. ET says:

    Arie Brand, thanks for the link. Interesting stuff and lots of parallels with the concepts of landownership and land-tenure systems in ancient Bali. I qoute from Hobart et al’s ‘The Peoples of Bali’:

    But not only gods and kings ‘owned’ land. Villages, temple associations and other population groups, families and individuals also referred to their landed ‘property’. This is a reference to the fact that earlier Balinese land-ownership rights have no claim to exclusiveness, as is the case in the western understanding of law, but that the possession of resources is rather to be understood symbolically. Geertz demonstrates that the term druwe (property) reflects a hierarchy of patterns, in which every step is a version of the next higher (and finer), each higher step representing an image of the one below it (being a coarser version) – a graded symbolism which expresses itself in numerous other Balinese cultural matters. Balinese property rights are therefore not ‘either/or’ matters with only one legal claim to property; there can be several such ‘ownerships’ existing at the same time.
    To what extent did nobles and commoners, villages and banjar, temple associations and other specific groups of the population possess land? This question cannot be answered in a way which is generally valid for the whole of Bali. Before the introduction of colonial agrarian legislation, diverse property rights existed not only regionally side-by-side, but were also subject to differences over time.

    And no, I’m not Dutch, at least not full-blooded.

  27. Arie Brand says:

    I think the trouble with European notions of princely land ownership was that this was originally conceived as rights to a certain territory with definite boundaries whereas, in fact, one was dealing here with rights to the allegiance of men. Geertz tells somewhere the following anecdote about Bali which originally comes from the Dutch scholar Kern:

    “The Dutch, who wanted […] to get the boundary between two petty princedoms straight once and for all, called in the princes concerned and asked them where indeed the borders lay. Both agreed that the border of princedom A lay at the farthest point from which a man could still see the swamps, and the border of princedom ? lay at the point from which a man could still see the sea. Had they, then, never fought over the land between, from which one could see neither swamp nor sea? ‘Mijnheer’, one of the old princes replied, ‘we had much better reason to fight with one another than these shabby hills’ “.

    However, on the village level land ownership must have been, somehow, conceived as right to a territory that could be used.

  28. ET says:

    However, on the village level land ownership must have been, somehow, conceived as right to a territory that could be used.

    Or in some cases based on legend as in the case of the Bali aga village of Tenganan in East Bali. It says that the inhabitants of Tenganan originated from Bedulu in central Bali, the domain of the powerful raja Dalem Bedulu who lived at the beginning of the 14th century. He had lost his favorite horse and ordered his subjects to go and find it. They went east and found it dead in the vicinity of Tenganan in Karangasem. As a reward for them having found the horse they asked the raja for a plot of land as far as the stench from the dead horse could be perceived. The raja then sent his patih to walk around with them in order to establish how far the stench of the cadaver was reaching. They walked for days but as far as they could go the smell still persisted. In the end the patih gave up and granted them all the land they had gone through. When he had left the headman of the group of Bali Aga took from under his clothes a piece of rotten horse meat that he had carried all along.
    The result is that Tenganan is a village with a vast territory and its inhabitants are considered to be quite rich so that they can afford to let all the cultivation of their land be done by pendatang.
    It seems cunning is still considered a typical virtue by many Balinese.

  29. Arie Brand says:

    It’s a charming story but wouldn’t it be a mythical explanation of a situation that came about for more prosaic reasons?

    At any case the distinction between royal “land”ownership in the form of the allegiance of a number of individuals and landownership at the bottom of society where the land actually had to be worked also holds for this particular situation I think.

  30. ET says:

    It’s a charming story but wouldn’t it be a mythical explanation of a situation that came about for more prosaic reasons?

    I was told the story when I visited this particular village by an old man who, by the way, spoke Dutch rather fluently. But I admit that in Bali the line between myth and reality is rather thin.

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