Dutch East Indies, or Netherlands East
Indies, ( ; ) was the Dutch
colony that became modern Indonesia following World War
formed from the nationalised colonies of the
former Dutch East India
Company that came under the administration of the Netherlands 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
Thereafter and as a consequence of the subsequent Indonesian National
, the Netherlands formally recognised Indonesian
sovereignty in December 1949.
Background: the Dutch East India Company
The Dutch East India
(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
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
Java before Dutch control was restored.
Anglo-Dutch Treaty, ceded
Dutch control of Malacca, the
Malay Peninsula, and possessions in
India to Great Britain in exchange for British settlements in
Indonesia, such as Bengkulu in Sumatra.
resulting delineation of borders between British Malaya
and the Dutch East Indies
remains today between Malaysia and Indonesia, respectively.
capital of the Dutch East Indies was Batavia, now known as Jakarta, 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 Aceh, Lombok, and
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 Ambonese (from Maluku) mercenaries
to expand and protect its trading interests across the
During the Dutch East Indies era, the most
prolonged conflicts were the Padri War
Sumatra (1821–38), the Java War
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
Disturbances continued to break out on both
Java and Sumatra during the
remainder of the 19th century, and between 1846 and 1849,
expeditions to conquer Bali were largely
The Banjarmasin War in southeast Borneo
resulted in the Dutch defeat of the sultan. In Aceh, 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
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 Sulawesi 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
Papua), was brought under Dutch administration in
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
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
. 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
Johannes van den Bosch
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:
); 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
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
declared Indonesian independence.
A four and a half-year
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.
agreement, however, left out Western New Guinea, which remained under the auspices of Netherlands New Guinea.
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
. 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.
- Braudel, Fernand, The
perspective of the World, vol III in Civilization and
- 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.
- Reid (1974), p. 1.
- Cited in