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The Kingdom of The Netherlands in the Spice Island

The conquest for land and resources is a perilous fight that can often challenge in which people look at one another.  If the conquering country is a force believing that they are totally in control of the situation and can rule a land with exactness then country comes into the land and rules.  However, knowing others can conquer and take control of the land there remains only the necessity of working with the people of the conquered land to reassure them that this take over is temporally.  History is full of stories of a country invading another, taking the land, exploiting resource, and leaving after using up the resources leaving the conquered land decimated and destroyed for years to come.  Yet, in contrast there are stories of a country taking over another and controlling the resources, improving the conditions, and leaving the land better off than when they came.

In the 1600’s the Kingdom of the Netherlands had recently won their independence from Spain.  The Kingdom was trying to find a foothold in the world economy that was dominated by the British, Spanish and Portuguese countries.  The Netherlands saw there was two possibilities in becoming a dominate World power.  The first was in establishing a colony in the new world.  The second was having the merchant work with political ties in the Spice Islands and establish on colonization of the islands.  Regarding the first idea, the Netherlands did establish an American colony for a time however it was not successful. With its failure, the Kingdom of the Netherlands turned its focus to the Spice Islands and conquering the islands for their resources.  By taking over the Islands, the Dutch kingdom established its self as a major player in the world, and a force to be dealt with.  They also worked to take military control of the Spice Island. The military dominated with the help of its merchant class that exploited the resource of the land for their own good.

A debate developed the issues of the Netherlands role.  One side said that is was a military conquest.  Others said it was an economic issue of the merchants exploiting the land by using the military force from the Netherlands to fight the battles with the natives.  From the journals of Lloyd Rhys, he makes the argument that it was the military of the Netherlands that wanted to make this conquest.  He states, “The government had given order to conquer the lands of the Spice Islands and we were to full fill these.”  In his journals, there are references to the nature that when Dutch government sent the people over there it was not for the merchants, rather for the conquest of government[1].

The Dutch views of the Spice Island lead to the taking over of the land.  The government of the Netherlands read about the failed governments that had ruled the islands over the last thousand years and figured they could do a better job then anyone from the east.  Before the Dutch military invasion the Spice Islands had been rule by the T’ang dynasty from 618-906, the Sung dynasty from 960-1279 and other governments each of which fell to the resentment of the people.  In the fourteenth century the Hindu empire had not only taken control of Java proper, but over Soenda as well as parts of the Malakka, Sumatra, Borneo and other islands in the archipelago forming modern Indonesia[2]

The Dutch people knew that if they could attack the land militarily they could control the land.  They believed they could do this because of the belief that they had superior European technology and that the white person was a strong influence.  These beliefs came from recently defeated the Spanish in their civil war.  In their war, the Dutch people had come together and used their pure whiteness to defeat an army and navy that was influenced by the Muslim population.  In the Spice Islands, there had been a heavy influence from the Muslim.  Rhys states in his journal, “There is was strong feeling that because of the recent defeat of the Spanish our people sensed that they could conquer another group of Muslims and occupy them.[3]

The war with the Spice Island began around 1605-1607.  The dates for this are not clear because of lost journals.  Nevertheless, the invasion was started on the seas.  The question could be raised if this was a merchant class war, “where are the merchant provoking a war to gain ports?” and the answer is no.  This war was to fight for control of the islands.  The Dutch government believed that by controlling the Islands they could have a major influence in the area.  In researching, this I ran across the account from a friend in the Netherlands who told me of his ancestors fighting in the war to control the Islands.  He said his ancestor was a foot soldier and that his people were going over to the Islands for military conquest.  The goal of the conquest he stated was that of taking the ports of the Islands and controlling the spice trade, but that it was the government, not the merchants who wanted this warfare.[4]

The invasion of the Dutch navy into the Spice Islands, started by bombing the ports of modern Jakarta and Jarkarta port and other ports easily fell into the hands of the Dutch military.  This would make it appear to be a simple conquest of the country. Yet the war was not over and the Dutch military started a series of defensive wars that lasted over the next three hundred and fifty years. 

There are a few memorable revolts in the early history of the Netherlands occupation of the Spice Islands.  The first one occurred with in the first seventy years.  The natives having learned a tradition, passed down from their ancestors, knew that invading armies would eventually leave.  Sometimes they left because they could not get any more from the natives, while others left when the natives revolted against them.  Such is the case in 1677 when the natives of the Islands began to revolt causing the Dutch Governor General to write, “It was surprising that a people used for centuries to obey this ruler’s ancestors should, as they did, give their allegiance to the rebel with entire indifference.[5]”  This revolt was an attempt by the natives who believed they could remove the Dutch rulers and regain their lands.  The military was brought in and the revolt was suppressed, the people go back to their work and they continue in their working relationship as they were created before the revolt.

The main influence on the Indonesian society came from their conflict with the Dutch East India Company.  This a ia company established in 1602 by Dutch merchants.  Their goal is to establish the trades the government of the Netherlands wants to have in the land.  Yet it had its problems with the state.  The company wanted to have full control of the land, yet the state would not all them.  The Prince of Orange insisted that the government have a seat of control in these markets and be able to dictate policy according to the governments need.  The all spelled trouble for the Spice Islands.  One of the policies the government was to have the natives be the workers for the Company.  The natives did not care for this at all.  They staged revolts and tried to rid themselves of their new masters.  This intern made the East India Company upset and they started to make the lives of the natives even worse then they had.  “People need controlling and by having these people under a tighter control, it can help make us a more prosperous business,” was stated in the reasoning for the new tighter control[6].  With the tighter control the East India company increased their pressure and the Indonesian people knew they could not do anything against the company.  By the 1800’s the company power had become so great there was increase pressure from both sides.

Another major conflict that came between the Dutch and the Indonesian people came in 1846 with the Balinese people revolted against the Dutch causing the start of a three-year conflict between the societies. The situation started as the Balinese society began to gather weapons and warfare in the 1830’s.  This put the Dutch on alert because there were rumors that the British were starting to supply the Balinese.  The Dutch East India company realized the situation as one Dutch official graphically put it: “It is not difficult to see that the establishment of British merchants in these islands could be extremely damaging to Java.”  The official continued to state that he could see where and why the British would want to develop commercially in the Islands, but it was not necessarily advantages for the Netherlands if they continued to supply the natives.[7]

The Balinese war was started by the Dutch as a defensive move to suppress any attempt of British control in these islands.  In June of 1846, the fighting started between the two parties of the Dutch and Balinese.  In this warfare, the Dutch used their modern weapons of gun powder and rifles to fight off the Balinese who fought with bows and arrows and other primitive weapons.  The Balinese did have their newer weapons, received from the British, but were untrained in how to use them, thus rendering them ineffective.  The Dutch generals described the weapons of the Balinese as lances about 14 feet long constructed of light type of wood and painted red.  The iron tips of the lances were about 8 to 10 inches in length and were sharp on both sides.[8] Despite the technological difference in the two groups, the Balinese defended against the Dutch for three years, each side occurring massive amount of causalities.  Yet, the deaths for the Dutch were lessened in the fact they used natives, trained under the Dutch guard, to fight their battles for them.  Thus, the Dutch gained an advantage because of the numbers in losses were actually smaller for the Dutch actual population.  The conflict finally ended with the Swedish assistance in helping of the Dutch to restore order in the lands and Swedish being given monetary reimbursement for their help.[9]

The last conflict, which ultimately resulted in the independence of the Indonesian islands, was the most painful for the Dutch society. This conflict changed how the Dutch saw themselves.  For years, Indonesia was the horse pulling the cart of the Dutch economy, a milk cow, the goose that laid the golden eggs, etc. As one writer put it, “The decolonization of the Indonesia was never discussed in the Netherlands; it would have been like discussing the pros and cons of divorce during the wedding (ceremony).[10]  This conflict of Indonesia wanting its independence was not something that came over night.  The Indonesian people had believed that during the occupation of German troops in the Netherlands during World War II, Indonesia could gain independence, but it was not to be.  The Indonesian leaders sent diplomats to the Queen asking for their independence, but she refused to hear them.  Finally, after the end of the Second World War, Indonesia was free.  The two parties signed a series of treaties and agreements that pulled the Dutch military out of the Indonesian islands.  A remarkable occurrence went along in this independence movement.  The first is that the Islands had threatened to go to war against the Dutch to gain their freedom.  The Dutch having just come out of living in occupations knew that with the different sizes of militaries they could not win an actual battle against the Indonesian troops.  The second fact is that having come out of this occupation the Netherlands was more open to idea of having freedom, knowing how hard they had just fought it.[11] However, there was an economic impact drawn up to Indonesia by their independence that affected the relationships of the Dutch and Indonesians.

The economic issue that occurred came from massive immigration of people from Indonesia to the Netherlands.  Approximately 100,000 Indonesian citizens immigrated to the Netherlands in the 1950s.  This number is a guess because sources vary on how many people acutely left the land.  Yet what is know is that this immigration did not have that much of an impact on the Dutch society.  This is because during the same time 100,000 Dutch citizens immigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand at this same time.  The real impact came in Indonesia were the loss of the people affected its society negatively.  Among the Indonesian immigrants were the leaders of businesses, intellectuals and other people who ran the country, or who were pro Dutch supports[12].  Again according to my personal journals I met a family who’s father had immigrated to the Netherlands in the 1950s.  He was a bright man who ran shop selling Indonesian spices and food.  The father, while living in Indonesia had been a wealthy citizen, trained and ate well.  At the time of the independence movement he fled there, knowing as he said, “Because the Dutch had treated him fairly he could not turn his back on them.[13]”  This kind of loyalty others had for the Netherlands and why they left.  The immigration of the people affected both societies, but each survived.

The impact of the colonization of the Spice Islands affected how the Netherlands saw warfare.  The Dutch government used the Islands to establish themselves in the world.  They were coming out of a major war for conflict with Spain and wanted to launch themselves in global affairs.  The government saw the importance of the Spice Islands and the need to control them.  This was not a merchant take over, rather a military take over that became economically driven.  The natives of the land did not take kindly to this take over and they fought back, but it was to no avail.  With the superior technology that the Netherlands had, they held an advantage for over three hundred years.  It was during this time that the Indonesian society became the driving economic force for the Dutch government.  The Battles with the rebels early on coped with the conflict of the Balinese added to the pressure that in the 1940 gave the Indonesian their own freedom.  It is that freedom the Dutch had recently received that changed how they dealt with the Indonesians and why there was a peaceful independence instead of a warring movement.  The government may have been the first to drive into the Indonesian back in the 1600’s, yet it was the merchants that kept them there for all this time.


[1] Lloyd Rhys, Jungle Pimpernel, the story of a district officer in central Netherlands New Guinea.

[2] Clive Day, The Dutch in Java, 9

[3] Rhys, 45

[4] Donavan N. Johnston, Personal Journals written from 1998-2000 (vol. 3), 56-58

[5] Day, 19

[6] Day 103-104

[7] Alfons van der Kraan. Bali at war : a history of the Dutch-Balinese conflict of 1846-49 /, 9-11

[8] Ibid., 51-52

[9] Ibid., 213-216

[10] H. L. Wesseling Post-Industrial Holland, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 15 No. 1, (Imperial Hangovers), 1980, 127

[11] Ibid., 138-141

[12]H. R. Wessling, Post-Industrial Holland, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 15 No. 1, (Imperial Hangovers), 1980, 133-135

[13] Johnston, 156-158