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The Dutch East Indies, or Netherlands East Indies, ( ; ) was the Dutch colony that became modern Indonesiamarker following World War II.

It was formed from the nationalised colonies of the former Dutch East India Company that came under the administration of the Netherlandsmarker in 1800. During the nineteenth century, Dutch possessions in the archipelago and its hegemony were expanded, reaching their greatest extent in the early twentieth century. Following the World War II Japanese occupation, Indonesian nationalists declared Indonesian independence in 1945. Thereafter and as a consequence of the subsequent Indonesian National Revolution, the Netherlands formally recognised Indonesian sovereignty in December 1949.

Background: the Dutch East India Company

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) had been set up in the early seventeenth century to maximize Dutch trade interests in the Malay archipelago. By 1700, a colonial pattern was well established; the VOC had grown to become a state-within-a-state and the dominant power in the archipelago. Its method of indirect rule was to survive it. After the bankrupt company was liquidated on 1 January 1800, its territorial possessions became the property of the Dutch government.

Establishing a hegemonic Indies empire

In an 1806 to 1816 interregnum, during the Napoleonic Wars, the British took over administration of several Dutch East Indies posts including Javamarker before Dutch control was restored. The 1824 Anglo-Dutch Treaty, ceded Dutch control of Malaccamarker, the Malay Peninsula, and possessions in India to Great Britain in exchange for British settlements in Indonesia, such as Bengkulumarker in Sumatramarker. The resulting delineation of borders between British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies remains today between Malaysia and Indonesia, respectively. The capital of the Dutch East Indies was Batavia, now known as Jakartamarker, still capital of the republic.

For most of the Dutch East Indies history, and that of the VOC before it, Dutch control over these territories was tenuous; only in the early 20th century did Dutch dominance extend to what was to become the boundaries of modern-day Indonesia. Although Java was under Dutch domination for most of the 350 years of the combined VOC and Dutch East Indies era, many areas remained independent for much of this time including Acehmarker, Lombokmarker, and Borneomarker.
There were numerous wars and disturbances across the archipelago as various indigenous Indonesian groups resisted efforts to establish a Dutch hegemony, which weakened Dutch control and tied up its military forces. In the seventeenth century, the VOC had used its superior arms, and Buginese (from Sulawesi) and Ambonesemarker (from Malukumarker) mercenaries to expand and protect its trading interests across the archipelago. During the Dutch East Indies era, the most prolonged conflicts were the Padri War in Sumatra (1821–38), the Java War (1825–30) led by Prince Diponegoro, and a bloody thirty-year war in Aceh. Although each resulted in an eventual Dutch ascendancy, Indonesians used Islam as a vehicle for opposition to the Dutch, which along with communism and nationalism, would be used to a much greater extent and eventual success in the twentieth century struggle for independence (see Indonesian National Revival and Indonesian National Revolution).

Disturbances continued to break out on both Java and Sumatramarker during the remainder of the 19th century, and between 1846 and 1849, expeditions to conquer Balimarker were largely unsuccessful. The Banjarmasin War in southeast Borneo resulted in the Dutch defeat of the sultan. In Acehmarker, guerrilla leaders fought off Dutch invasion in what was the longest and bloodiest conflict from 1873 to Acehnese surrender in 1908. As exploitation of Indonesian resources expanded off Java, most of the outer islands came under direct Dutch government control or influence. Significant Indonesian piracy remained a problem for the Dutch until the mid-19th century.

Under the 1904–1909 tenure of governor-general J.B. van Heutsz, the government extended more direct colonial rule throughout the Dutch East Indies, thereby laying the foundations of today's Indonesian state. Although relatively minor, Indonesian rebellions broke out, but control was taken off the remaining independent local rulers although their wealth and splendour under the Dutch grew; southwestern Sulawesimarker was occupied in 1905–06, the island of Bali in 1906-08 with the Dutch intervention in Bali and finally the Dutch intervention in Bali , and the Bird's Head Peninsula (West Papuamarker), was brought under Dutch administration in 1920. This final territorial range would form the territory of the Republic of Indonesia proclaimed in 1945, with the exception of Netherlands New Guinea territory, which came under Indonesian administration in 1965.

Economic and social history

Dutch economic strategy for the colony during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries can be defined along three overlapping periods: the Cultivation System, the Liberal Period, and the Ethical Period. Throughout these periods, and until Indonesian independence, the exploitation of Indonesia's wealth contributed to the industrialisation of the Netherlands. Large expanses of Java, for example, became plantations cultivated by Javanese peasants, collected by Chinese intermediaries, and sold on overseas markets by European merchants. Before World War II, the Dutch East Indies produced most of the world's supply of quinine and pepper, over a third of its rubber, a quarter of its coconut products, and a fifth of its tea, sugar, coffee, and oil. Indonesia made the Netherlands one of the world's most significant colonial powers.

Despite increasing returns from the Dutch system of land tax, Dutch finances had been severely affected by the cost of the Java and Padri Wars. The Dutch loss of Belgium in 1830 brought the Netherlands to the brink of bankruptcy, and a concerted Dutch exploitation of Indonesian resources commenced. In 1830, a new Governor-General, Johannes van den Bosch, was appointed to make the Dutch East Indies pay their way. An agricultural policy of government-controlled forced cultivation was introduced to Java. Known as the Cultivation System (Dutch: cultuurstelsel); much of Java became a Dutch plantation, making it a profitable, self-sufficient colony and saving the Netherlands from bankruptcy. The Cultivation System, however, brought much economic hardship to Javanese peasants, who suffered famine and epidemics in the 1840s.

Critical public opinion in the Netherlands led to much of the Cultivation System's excesses being eliminated under the agrarian reforms of the "Liberal Period". From 1870, producers were no longer compelled to provide crops for exports, but the Indies were open up to private enterprise, which developed large plantations. Sugar production, for example, doubled between 1870 and 1885; new crops such as tea and cinchona flourished, and rubber was introduced, leading to dramatic increases in Dutch profits. However, the resulting scarcity of land for rice production, combined with dramatically increasing populations, especially in Java, led to further hardships. Changes were not limited to Java, or agriculture; oil from Sumatra and Kalimantan became a valuable resource for industrialising Europe. Dutch commercial interests expanded off Java to the outer islands with increasingly more territory coming under direct Dutch government control or dominance in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

In 1898, the population of Java numbered twenty-eight million with another seven million on Indonesia's outer islands.

In 1901 the Dutch adopted what they called the Ethical Policy, under which the colonial government had a duty to further the welfare of the Indonesian people in health and education. Other new policies included irrigation programs, transmigration, communications, flood mitigation, industrialisation, and protection of native industry. Political reform increased the autonomy to the local colonial administration, moving a degree from central control from the Netherlands, whilst power was also diverged from the central government to more localised governing units. Although far more progressive than previous policies, the humanitarian policies were ultimately inadequate. While a small elite of secondary and tertiary-educated Indonesians developed, the overwhelming majority of Indonesians remained illiterate. Primary schools were established and officially open to all, but by 1930, only 8% of school-aged children received an education. Industrialisation did not significantly effect the majority of Indonesians, and Indonesia remained an agricultural colony; by 1930, there were 17 cities with populations over 50,000 with a combined population of 1.87 million. However, the education reforms, and modest political reform, resulted in the creation of a small elite of highly educated indigenous Indonesians, who promoted the idea of an independent and unified "Indonesia" that would bring together disparate indigenous groups of the Dutch East Indies. A period termed the Indonesian National Revival, the first half of the twentieth century saw the nationalist movement develop strongly, but also face Dutch repression.

Removal of the colonial state

The invasion and occupation of Indonesia during World War II, brought about the destruction of the colonial state in Indonesia, as the Japanese removed as much of the Dutch state as they could, replacing it with their own regime. Although the top positions were held by the Japanese, the internment of all Dutch citizens meant that Indonesians filled many leadership and administrative positions. Following the Japanese surrender in August 1945, nationalist leaders Sukarno and Hatta declared Indonesian independence. A four and a half-year struggle followed as the Dutch tried to re-establish their colony; although Dutch forces re-occupied most of Indonesia's territory a guerrilla struggle ensued, and the majority of Indonesians, and ultimately international opinion, favoured Indonesian independence. In December 1949, the Netherlands formally recognised Indonesian sovereignty.

The 1949 agreement, however, left out Western New Guineamarker, which remained under the auspices of Netherlands New Guinea. The Indonesian government under Sukarno pressured for the territory to come under Indonesian control. Skirmishes took place between 1961 and 1962, including a brief naval engagement in 1962. The United States pressured the Netherlands to surrender it to Indonesia in August under terms negotiated in the New York Agreement. At the same time, the Australian government reversed its policy and supported Indonesian control of the area. It remains as part of Indonesia, although resistance continues in various parts of the region.

See also



  • Braudel, Fernand, The perspective of the World, vol III in Civilization and Capitalism, 1984


  1. Robert Cribb, "Development policy in the early 20th century", in Jan-Paul Dirkse, Frans Hüsken and Mario Rutten, eds, Development and social welfare: Indonesia’s experiences under the New Order (Leiden: Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 1993), pp. 225–245.
  2. Reid (1974), p. 1.
  3. Cited in

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