Colonial history

1 Introduction
2 The idea of Indonesia, 1900-1942
3 The Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
4 Revolutionary struggle, 1945-1950
5 Political and economic developments under the New Order: 1965 to present

During the course of the 15th century, the two great European maritime powers of the time, Spain and Portugal, were exploring sea routes to the east. Two forces were driving this search: the desire for profits, and the drive to evangelize. At the time, even the wealthy in Europe had to exist on pickled and salted fish and meat during the winter months (fodder crops for winter feed were not grown until the 18th century). Spices to flavour what would otherwise be a very monotonous diet were greatly sought after and commanded a high price. This was not just a passing European fad. An Indian Hindu wrote that: “When the palate revolts against the insipidness of rice boiled with no other ingredients, we dream of fat, salt and spices”.

Of the spices, cloves and nutmeg originated from just one location, the Moluccas (Maluku) - the Spice Islands of eastern Indonesia. Perhaps because of their value, spices and their places of origin were accorded mythical status in Europe. The 14th century French friar Catalani Jordanus claimed, for example, that the clove flowers of Java produced an odour so strong it killed “every man who cometh among them, unless he shut his mouth and nostrils”.

It was in order to break the monopoly on the spice trade held by Venetian and Muslim Arab traders that the Portuguese began to extend their possessions eastwards. This finally culminated in the capture of the port of Melaka by the Portuguese seafarer Alfonso de Albuquerque in June 1511. The additional desire to spread the Word of God is clear in the speech that Albuquerque made before the battle with the Muslim sultan of Melaka, when he exhorted his men, stressing:
“... the great service which we shall perform to our Lord in casting the Moors out of this country and of quenching the fire of the sect of Mohammet so that it may never burst out again hereafter”.

From their base in Melaka, the Portuguese established trading relations with the Moluccas, and built a series of forts across the region: at Bantam (Banten), Flores, Ternate, Tidore, Timor and Ambon (Amboyna).

Many accounts of Indonesian history treat the arrival of the Portuguese Admiral Alfonso de Albuquerque off Malacca (Melaka) in 1511, and the dispatch of a small fleet to the Spice Islands, as a watershed in Indonesian history. As the historian MC Ricklefs argues, this view is untenable, writing that “... in the early years of the Europeans' presence, their influence was sharply limited in both area and depth”.

The Portuguese only made a significant impact in the Spice Islands, leaving their mark in a number of Indonesian words of Portuguese origin - for example, sabun (soap), meja (table) and Minggu (Sun). They also introduced Christianity to East Indonesia and disrupted the islands' prime export - spices. But it was the Dutch, in the guise of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC (the Dutch East India Company), who began the process of western intrusion. They established a toehold in Java - which the Portuguese had never done - a precursor to later territorial expansion. But this was a slow process and it was not until the early 20th century - barely a generation before the Japanese occupation - that the Dutch could legitimately claim they held administrative authority over the whole country.

The idea of Indonesia, 1900-1942

The beginning of the 20th century marks a turning point in Indonesian history. As Raden Kartini, a young educated Javanese woman, wrote in a letter dated 12 January 1900: “Oh, it is splendid just to live in this age; the transition of the old into the new!”. It was in 1899 that the Dutch lawyer C Th van Deventer published a ground-breaking paper entitled
Een eereschuld
or 'A debt of honour'. This article argued that having exploited the East Indies for so long, and having extracted so much wealth from the colony, it was time for the Dutch government to restructure their policies and focus instead on improving conditions for Indonesians. In 1901, the Ethical Policy - as it became known - was officially embraced. Van Deventer was commissioned to propose ways to further such a policy and suggested a formulation of 'education, irrigation and emigration'. The Ethical Policy represented a remarkable change in perspective, but scholars point out that it was very much a creation of the European mind and made little sense in Indonesian terms.

The Indonesian economy was also changing in character. The diffusion of the cash economy through the islands and the growing importance of export crops like rubber and coffee, and minerals such as tin and oil, were transforming the country. Christianity, too, became a powerful force for change, particularly in the islands beyond Muslim Java. There was large-scale conversion in central and North Sulawesi, Flores, among the Batak of Sumatra, in Kalimantan, and Timor. In response to the inroads that Christianity was making in the Outer Islands, Islam in Java became more orthodox and reformist. The 'corrupt' abangan, who adhered to what has become known as the 'Javanese religion' - a mixture of Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs - were gradually displaced by the stricter santris.

At about the same time, there was an influx of
, or Dutch expatriates, who came to the East Indies with their wives and Dutch cultural perspectives, with the intention of going 'home' after completing their contracts. They overwhelmed the older group of
or 'stayers', and there emerged a more racist European culture, one that denigrated
culture and extolled the life-style of the Dutch. The Chinese community, like the Dutch, was also divided into two groups: the older immigrants or
who had assimilated into Indies culture, and the more recent
arrivals who zealously maintained their culture, clinging to their Chinese roots.

So, the opening years of the 20th century presented a series of paradoxes. On the one hand, Dutch policy was more sensitive to the needs of the 'natives'; yet many Dutch were becoming less understanding of Indonesian culture and more bigoted. At the same time, while the Chinese and Dutch communities were drawing apart from the native Indonesians and into distinct communities based upon Chinese and European cultural norms, so the economy was becoming increasingly integrated and international. Perhaps inevitably, tensions arose, and these began to mould the social and political landscape of confrontation between the colonialists and the natives.

A number of political parties and pressure groups emerged from this maelstrom of forces. In 1912, a Eurasian - one of those who found himself ostracized from European- colonial culture - EFE Douwes Dekker founded the Indies Party. This was a revolutionary grouping with the slogan 'the Indies for those who make their home there'. In the same year, a batik merchant from Surakarta established the Sarekat Islam or 'Islamic Union', which quickly became a mass organization under the leadership of the charismatic orator HOS Cokroaminoto. Seven years later it had over 2,000,000 members. In 1914, a small group of
Dutch immigrants founded the Indies Social-Democratic Association in Semarang. Finally, in 1920, the Perserikatan Komunis di India (PKI) or the Indies Communist Party was established.

In 1919, the Dutch colonial authorities decided to clamp down on all dissent. The flexibility that had characterized Dutch policy until then was abandoned in favour of an increasingly tough approach. But despite the rounding-up of large numbers of subversives, and the demise of the PKI and emasculation of the Sarekat Islam, it was at this time that the notion of 'Indonesia' first emerged. In July 1927, Sukarno founded the Partai Nasional Indonesia or PNI. In October 1928, a Congress of Indonesian Youth coined the phrase 'one nation - Indonesia, one people - Indonesian, one language - Indonesian'. At the same congress the Indonesian flag was designed and the Indonesian national anthem sung for the first time - Indonesia Raya. As John Smail writes in the book

In Search of Southeast Asia

“The idea of Indonesia spread so easily, once launched, that it seemed to later historians as if it had always existed, if not actually explicitly then inchoate in the hearts of the people. But it was, in fact, a new creation, the product of a great and difficult leap of the imagination. The idea of Indonesia required the denial of the political meaning of the societies into which the first Indonesians had been born”.

In spite of Dutch attempts to stifle the nationalist spirit, it spread through Indonesian, and particularly Javanese, society. By 1942, when the Japanese occupied the country, the idea of Indonesia as an independent nation was firmly rooted.

The Japanese occupation, 1942-1945

Although the Japanese occupation lasted less than four years, it fundamentally altered the forces driving the country towards independence. Prior to 1942, the Dutch faced no real challenge to their authority; after 1945, it was only a question of time before independence. The stunning victory of the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies destroyed the image of colonial invincibility, undermined the prestige of the Dutch among many Indonesians, and - when the Dutch returned to power after 1945 - created an entirely new psychological relationship between rulers and ruled.

But the Japanese were not liberators. Their intention of creating a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere did not include offering Indonesians independence. They wished to control Indonesia for their own interests. The Japanese did give a certain latitude to nationalist politicians in Java, but only as a means of mobilizing Indonesian support for their war effort. Sukarno and Muhammad Hatta were flown to Tokyo in November 1943 and decorated by Emperor Hirohito. For the Dutch and their allies, the war meant incarceration. There were 170,000 internees, including 60,000 women and children. About a quarter died in captivity.

One particularly sordid side of the occupation which has come to light in recent years is the role of 'comfort women'. This euphemism should be more accurately translated as 'sex slaves' - women who were forced to satisfy the needs of Japanese soldiers to aid the war effort. For years the Japanese government denied such comfort stations existed, but documents unearthed in Japan have indicated beyond doubt that they were very much part of the war infrastructure. Much of the attention has focused upon comfort women from Korea, China and the Philippines, but there were also stations in Indonesia. These women, so long cowed and humiliated into silence, are now talking about their experiences to force the Japanese government to accept responsibility. Dutch-Australian Jan Ruff is one of these brave women. A young girl living in Java before the war, she was interned in Camp Ambarawa with her mother and two sisters. In February 1944 she was taken, along with nine other girls, to a brothel in Semarang for the sexual pleasure of Japanese officers. In her testimony at a public meeting in Tokyo in December 1992 she recounted: “During that time [at the brothel] the Japanese had abused me and humiliated me. They had ruined my young life. They had stripped me of everything, my self-esteem, my dignity, my freedom, my possessions, my family.” Belatedly, the Japanese government offered its 'sincere apologies and remorse' in August 1993, 48 years afterwards. The fact that the apology came on the last day of the Liberal Democratic Party's government detracted from the honesty of the remarks. Many still feel that Japanese leaders find it difficult to be sincere about events almost half a century old.

As the Japanese military lost ground in the Pacific to the advancing Americans, so their rule over Indonesia became increasingly harsh. Peasants were forcibly recruited as 'economic soldiers' to help the war effort - about 75,000 died - and the Japanese were even firmer in their suppression of dissent than the Dutch had been before them. But as the military situation deteriorated, the Japanese gradually came to realize the necessity of allowing nationalist sentiments greater rein. On 7 September 1944, Prime Minister Koiso promised independence, and in March 1945 the creation of an Investigating Committee for Preparatory Work for Indonesian Independence was announced. Among its members were Sukarno, Hatta and Muhammad Yamin. On 1 June, Sukarno mapped out his philosophy of Pancasila or Five Principles which were to become central tenets of independent Indonesia. On 15 August, after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, the Japanese unconditionally surrendered. Sukarno, Hatta and the other independence leaders now had to act quickly before the Allies helped the Dutch re-establish control. On 17 August 1945, Sukarno read out the Declaration of Independence, Indonesia's red and white flag was raised and a small group of onlookers sang the national anthem, Indonesia Raya.

Revolutionary struggle, 1945-1950

In September 1945, the first units of the British Army landed at Jakarta to re-impose Dutch rule. They arrived to find an Indonesian administration already in operation. Confrontation was inevitable. Young Indonesians responded by joining the revolutionary struggle, which became known as the Pemuda Movement (
means youth). This reached its height between 1945 and mid-1946, and brought together young men and women of all classes, binding them together in a common cause. The older nationalists found themselves marginalized in this increasingly violent and fanatical response. Men like Sukarno and Hatta adopted a policy of
- negotiating with the Dutch. The supporters of the Pemuda Movement embraced
- the armed struggle. Not only the Dutch, but also minorities like the Chinese, Eurasians and Ambonese, suffered from atrocities at the hands of the Pemuda supporters. The climax of the Pemuda Movement came in November 1945 with the battle for Surabaya.

In 1947, the Dutch were militarily strong enough to regain control of Java, and East and South Sumatra. At the end of 1948, a second thrust of this 'Police Action' re-established control over much of the rest of the country. Ironically, these military successes played an important role in the final 'defeat' of the Dutch in Indonesia. They turned the United Nations against Holland, forcing the Dutch government to give way over negotiations. On 2 November the Hague Agreement was signed, paving the way for full political independence of all former territories of the Dutch East Indies (with the exception of West Irian) on 27 December 1949.

From independence to Guided Democracy to coup: 1950-1965

In 1950, Indonesia was an economic shambles and in political chaos. Initially, there was an attempt to create a political system based on the western European model of parliamentary democracy. By 1952 the futility of expecting a relatively painless progression to this democratic ideal was becoming obvious, despite the holding of a parliamentary general election in 1955 with a voter turnout of over 90%. Conflicts between Communists, radical Muslims, traditional Muslims, regional groups and minorities led to a series of coups, rebel governments and violent confrontations. Indonesia was unravelling and in the middle of 1959, President Sukarno cancelled the provisional constitution and introduced his period of Guided Democracy.

This period of relative political stability rested on an alliance between the army, the Communist PKI, and Sukarno himself. It was characterized by extreme economic nationalism, with assets controlled by Dutch, British and Indian companies and individuals being expropriated. The
with the Dutch over the 'recovery' of West Irian from 1960 to 1962, and with Malaysia over Borneo beginning in 1963, forced Sukarno to rely on Soviet arms shipments, and Indonesia moved increasingly into the Soviet sphere of influence. Cracks between the odd alliance of PKI and the army widened, and even Sukarno's popular support and force of character could not stop the dam from bursting. On 1 October 1965, six senior generals were assassinated by a group of middle-ranking officers, thus ending the period of Guided Democracy. MC Ricklefs writes: “... on that night the balance of hostile forces which underlay guided democracy came to an end. Many observers have seen tragedy in the period, especially in the tragedy of Sukarno, the man who outlived his time and used his popular support to maintain a regime of extravagant corruption and hypocrisy.”

The coup was defeated by the quick-thinking of General Suharto whose forces overcame those of the coup's leaders. However, it undermined both Sukarno and the PKI as both were linked with the plot - the former by allowing the PKI to gain such influence, and the latter by allegedly master-minding the coup. Most Indonesians, although not all western academics. It led to massacres on a huge scale as bands of youths set about exterminating those who were thought to be PKI supporters. This was supported, implicitly, by the army and there were news reports of 'streams choked with bodies'. The reaction was most extreme in Java and Bali, but there were murders across the archipelago. The number killed is not certain; estimates vary from 100,000 to 1,000,000 and the true figure probably lies somewhere between the two (500,000 is widely quoted). In Bali alone some scholars believe that 80,000 people died - around 5% of the population. The difficulty is that the body count kept by the military is widely regarded as a gross under-estimate. Oei Tjoe Tat, a cabinet minister under Sukarno, was sent on a fact-finding mission to discover the scale of the massacres. He calculated that by January 1966 500,000 people had died. The military's figure at that time was 80,000. As it was an anti-Communist purge, and as China had been blamed for fermenting the coup, many of those killed were Chinese who were felt, by their mere ethnicity, to have leftist-inclinations and Communist sympathies. Few doubt that the majority were innocent traders and middlemen, whose economic success and ethnic origin made them scapegoats. Islamic clerics and members of youth groups seem to have been particularly instrumental in singling out people for extermination. While these uncontrolled massacres were occurring, power was transferred to General Suharto (although he was not elected president until 1968). This marked the shift from what has become known as the Old Order, to the New Order.

That the events of 1965 remain contentious is reflected in the government's attempts to re-write, and in places to erase, this small slice of history. In 1995, three decades after the events of 1965-1966, the authorities banned Oei Tjoe Tat's autobiography Oei Tjoe Tat: assistant to President Sukarno. It seems that the account of the anti-communist purge diverged too much from the official history. The fact that banned novelist and former political prisoner Pramoedya Ananta Toer had a hand in the book also cannot have endeared it to the authorities. By the time it was banned, however, around 15,000 copies had already been sold. Documents relating to the 1965-1996 upheaval are restricted, and instead the government produces its own sanitized version of events. This has it that the Communists were behind the attempted coup, that President Sukarno was misguided in allowing the Communists to gain so much power, and that only the quick-thinking and courageous military, with Suharto at the fore, thwarted the attempt and saved Indonesia from turmoil.

Political and economic developments under the New Order: 1965 to present

When Suharto took power in 1965 he had to deal with an economy in disarray. There was hyper-inflation, virtually no inward investment and declining productivity. To put the economy back on the rails, he turned to a group of US-trained economists who became known as the Berkeley Mafia. They recommended economic reform, the return of expropriated assets, and a more welcoming political and economic climate for foreign investment. In terms of international relations, Suharto abandoned the policy of support for China and the Soviet Union and moved towards the western fold. Diplomatic relations with China were severed (and only renewed in 1990), and the policy of confrontation against Malaysia brought to an end.

The 33 years from 1965 through to 1998 was one of political stability. Suharto stayed in power for over three decades, and he presided over a political system which in a number of respects had more in common with the Dutch era than with that of former President Sukarno. Suharto eschewed ideology as a motivating force, kept a tight control of administration, and attempted to justify his leadership by offering his people economic well-being. He was known - until the 1997-1998 economic crisis - as the 'Father of Development'.

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