“ By Jenny Meyer, Tracy Navichoque, and Grace Riccardi ”

Map of Indonesia

Indonesia. Map. The CIA World Factbook. 24 Feb. 2009.  Accessed 1 Mar. 2009.


Historical Background

Indonesia was a prominent and thriving trading archipelago with distinct social, political, and econimic customs. Indonesia had a large indigenous population that descended from the Malay peoples spread around the various islands. Indonesia had a highly developed society with a wet field rice cultivation that was the basis of agriculture. Their advance knowledge of navigation allowed them to trade and interact with China, India, and Ceylon. Indonesia’s economy functioned well through international and regional trade among the numerous islands in Indonesia. There was a large trade of sugar, ivory, spices, and cotton cloth. Indonesia’s politics were run by different empires or regional rulers before the imposing of Dutch rule. The most succesful ruler was Gadjah Mada who ruled from 1331-164 during the Madjapahit empire. Mada re-united the archipelago, standardized the bureaucracy and the administration, as well as codified many laws and customs. However, Indonesia’s culture was influenced by surrounding countries before European arrival. During the thirteenth century, sufi Islam and many other Islamic values spread throughout the archipelago. Islam arrived through trade into Indonesia, by Arab merchants. The Islamic faith contradicted previous beliefs held by the indigenous natives. Monotheism in Islam undermined the power of the emperors because they could no longer be considered as god-kings.  Before the Netherlands’ United East India Company and other Europeans powers approached Indonesia, it was socially distinct, embracing varied forms of art and culture. Women had relative freedom in Indonesia, however most of them worked. Indonesia enjoyed a remarkable culture that inlcuded a unique form of puppet theatre called wajang, in which wooden figures were controlled by people and presented a play demonstrating Indonesian life or religious values. Wajang was a form of expression which provided conversion stories and where true Indonesian culture remained. Indonesia’s main religion, before the influence of Dutch Christianity and Buddhism and Hinduism from India, was an animist relgion.

Map of Indonesia during Dutch colonization. The orange shows the regions in Indonesia which the Dutch controlled.

Indonesia faced approximately 450 years of colonization by Europeans. Several European countries were attracted to Indonesia because of its exotic resources and its prime location for trade. Indonesia had hotly coveted resources, such as spices, cloves, nutmeg, and sugar. Portugal was the first country to arrive in the archipelago around 1511 and Spain also entered Indonesia a few years later, however both countries did not remain the dominant colonizing countries, but they brought Catholicism into Indonesia. In 1602, the VOC or Netherlands’ United East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie), was formed. In 1619, after a slow and gradual industrialization of the Netherlands, the VOC indirectly colonized the archipelago of Indonesia. The VOC’s early motives to colonize Indonesia were merely commercial. They wanted to dominate the trade in Indonesia and form a monopoly of trade agaisnt other European countries, who they were competing against, such as Britain. The VOC gradually gained more control of Indonesia as it set up ports in Batavia, Banda, Tidore, Java, and Makasa. The VOC controlled Indonesia indirectly until the eighteenth century, when the private investment company began to decline due to a decrease in profits from trade and the interruption of Indonesian pirates. The company’s charter expired in 1799, when the Dutch government took direct control of Indonesia. The Napoleonic Wars had a large effect on the Dutch’s control of Indonesia and the control was temporarily shifted to the British government in 1811. The Congress of Vienna in 1815, returned Indonesia to the Dutch and they kept a “sphere of influence” over the archipelago.


The Dutch East Indies Flag (VOC). A colonizing object placed on Indonesian land by VOC investors in 1619.

 Picture of exported Indonesian slaves to Suriname (A Dutch colony in South America). Dutch colonization prompted the exportation of Indonesian workers to other Dutch colonies.

The Dutch exploited the colony, its natural resources, and the labor force in Indonesia. The Dutch were intereseted in gaining high capital profits from the labor and resources they extracted from Indonesia. To assure high profits, the Dutch established the Cultuurstelsel, or the Cultivation System, a system in which peasants and famers were forced to grow commercial crops for the Dutch and for the local governments. All heavy burdens and taxes were levied on the peasants, therefore they faced impoverished conditions and famine. The Dutch brought goods, such as coffee, to the island of Java, which became one of the largest exporters of the product. Sugar, coffee, and other goods, accounted for seventy percent of Indonesian exports, and almost all the profits were taken by the Dutch. All the fertile land in Indonesia because used as Dutch plantations. Peasants did not have enough land for subsitence farming and suffered through famines. Daily life differed for different social classes in Indonesia. Higher classes faced less hardships under the Dutch rule, nevertheless the lower classes encountered harsh treatment, great exploitation, heavy tax burdens, and a deterioration of their living condtions. The Dutch treated the inhabitants of Indonesia without much sympahty, however there were Dutch schools implemented in the society through much advocacy from women. Many women who had migrated to Indonesia, were concerned with the lack of education and decided to create schools. The schools were benefiical to the Indonesian population but detrimental to the Dutch and ultimately led to the end of their imperial rule. Colonizers who lived in Indonesia were usually officails who lived lavish lives and made much wealth from trade. The officials employed the pijaji, which were indigenous ruling groups. The pijaji were responsible for the labor that the peasants produced and they derived their wealth through exploitation of labor. After much dislike of the cultivation system, it was replaced with the plantation system that reduced some to the burden that the peasansts had by bypassing local rulers. The pijaji and the peasants grew upset with the Dutch domination and created a new nationalist movement.

During the Second World War, Japan occupied Indonesia from 1942 to 1945 and controlled the trade and government of the archipelago and removed Dutch control during the war. The changing leadership allowed for national groups who resented Dutch impearialism to form and grow. After World War II, the Dutch regained control of Indonesia but only for a very brief period of time. The Dutch school that had been previously set-up produced new educated elites who eventually took control of the nationalist movement in Indonesia and expressed their contempt towards the Dutch rule. These new educated elites and reformers, such as Sukarno, led the Indonesian Revolution. In 1945, Sukarno was declared President and he established the Republic of the United States of Indonesia. The Dutch finally recognized their loss and liberated Indonesia from the colonial control in 1949, when Queen Juliana of Netherlands proclaimed that Inodnesia was free of Dutch rule. The Nationalist movement that arose while the Japanese were in power led to expulsion of the Dutch. After colonialism ended in Indonesia, Sukarno remained president and established the guided democracy as the central governing method in Indonesia.

 Depiction of an Indonesian family in this era. Agricultural workers who cultivate rice and represent most Indonesian families.

Caldwell, Malcolm. Indonesia. Oxford University Press, 1968. (28-59)

Caldwell, Malcolm and Ernst Utrecht.  An Alternative History. Alternative Publishing Co. Limited, 1979. (7)

Taylor, Jean G. Indonesia: Peoples and Histories. Yale University Press, 2003 (150-285)

“Map of Indonesia in the twentieth century.” Online Map. Colonization in Asia. Accessed 3 Mar. 2009.


Caldwell, Malcolm. Indonesia. Oxford University Press, 1968. (28-59)

Caldwell, Malcolm and Ernst Utrecht.  An Alternative History. Alternative Publishing Co. Limited, 1979. (29)

  “VOC Flag” Online Image. National Library of Australia: The Rise of the VOC. Accessed 3 Mar. 2009

            < http://www.nla.gov.au/exhibitions/southland/Trade-The_rise_of_VOC.html>

“Indonesian Slaves to Suriname.” Inside Indonesia: The Javanese of Suriname.  Online Image. Accessed 3 Mar. 2009 < http://www.insideindonesia.org/content/view/1088/47>

Hanna, Willard A. Indonesian Banda. Library of Congress Cataloging. 1978 (16-24)

Hanna, Willard A. Indonesian Banda. Library of Congress Cataloging. 1978 (16-24)

Lamoureux, Florence. Indonesia: A Global Studies Handbook. Library of Congress Cataloging, 2003. (180-184)

Caldwell, Malcolm. Indonesia. Oxford University Press, 1968. (28-59)

“Indonesian Family.” Inside Indonesia: The Javanese of Suriname.  Online Image. Accessed 3 Mar. 2009 

< http://www.insideindonesia.org/content/view/1088/47>

Indonesia Today

After the end of Dutch colonialism in 1949, even before Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, declared that Indonesia was free of Dutch rule, Sukarno had become president and established a guided democracy. Islam grew exponentially after the Dutch had left. In 1799, when the Dutch took direct control of the colony, the employed Dutch officials to control the archipelago, therefore succeeding rulers lacked the experience of ruling and had been left in failed country. The Dutch acted as an obstruction to Indonesia for more the four centuries and distorted their culture and society. Much of the Indonesian culture, such as religion, was influenced by other countries, including the Arabs, India, and China. Different beliefs such as religion, ideology, ethnic tensions, and the turmoil produced by the Dutch, sowed the seams in the fabric of conflict that Indonesia confronts.

Currently, Indonesia is a thriving trading country with exports of rice, petroleum, and coffee and a distinct culture. However, Indonesia sufferes from many issues that have interrupted its government and the interactions between people. Indonesia is an exceedingly large archipelago that encompasses numerous islands but many of those islands are very distanct from the capital Jakarta. Many of those islands wanted to break away from Indonesia and rejected Indonesian rule, such as the East Timor province. The country has been lately trying to strengthen its democracy after more than forty years of authoritarian control. After Dutch control had ceased, Indonesia was ruled by Sukarno and then Suharto who took power by a coup d’etat, but many years followed with corrupt governments, therefore some reforms are enacted to mitigate corruption that has developed within the country.  Indonesia, which is highly populated with Muslims, has issues of racial extremitst and terrorist attacks. Indonesia, like many developing countries, is facing many human rights violations and is trying to reform the military and police, in order to reduce the corruption in governmental agencies. Indonesia has been preoccupied with ameliorating the impoverished conditions of its 237,512,352 inhabitants. Indonesia has tried to employ various reforms to improve the economy and the financial conditions of the poor throughout the past years.Throughout the past few years, Indonesia has also been the center of the avian flu and its population and exports have been placed in peril. Many of the problems that Indonesia currently encounters have their roots from the period of Dutch colonialism, or were caused by their intrusion. Economic collapses and a decreasing value of the rupiah (Indonesian currency) and political instability have been caused by the fragmentation that the Dutch left in Indonesia. The Dutch were heavily dependent on Indonesian raw materials and hindered their potential to industrialize and grow as a powerful capitalist country. Although Indonesia may current suffer from its previous disadvantages, the society and culture have become liberated. After the end of President’s Suharto’s autocratic rule in 1998, Indonesia received the freedom to express their dissent and they were no longer censored by the government. Indonesia is a thriving culture with a diverse population and a distinct culture, which offers various religions and customs, under a more adequate and reasonable republic.


President Sukarno (1945-1967)          President Suharto (1967-1998)

 “Indonesia” The CIA World Factbook. 24 Feb. 2009.  Accessed 1 Mar. 2009.

            < https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/id.html>

 “Portrait of President Sukarno” Online Image. Rise and Downfall: Sukarno. Accessed 1 Mar. 2009


 “Portrait of President Suharto” Online Image. Accessed 2 Mar. 2009


Primary Resources


The document below is a chart that demonstrates the extent to which colonialism and expansion grew, but more importantly how much land the Dutch gained. The Netherlands colonized Indonesia, however they were in constant competition with other foreign powers in order to keep the archipelago. The chart below outlines the involvement of other European countries and demonstrates the different land holdings. Netherlands also industrialized slowly, far behind Great Britain, France, and Germany. Therefore it arrived to Indonesia later than other countries and tried to protect it because Indonesia was the main source of raw materials and wealth for the Dutch.

Extent of Colonialism 



Document two is a direct quote from President Sukarno of Indonesia. President Sukarno was declared president in 1945, after the end of the Japanese occupation. President was the leader of the nationalist movement against Dutch colonization and he became president after Dutch imperial rule had ended in Indonesia. President Sukarno expresses the unity he wants to create in a recently decolonized country. He strongly believes that “colonialism must be eradicated from the earth.” He conveys his nationalist perspectives by articulating all the different manners of colonialism, such as economic, physical, and political control. The speech was said six years after the end of colonialism, therefore President Sukarno was still trying to end the fear of colonialism and unite the archipelago after the Dutch had left the islands in turmoil. Colonialism is portrayed as nefarious in the eyes of Sukarno.

“All of us, I am certain, are united by more important things than those which superficially divide us. We are united, for instance, by a common detestation of colonialism in whatever form it appears. We are united by a common detestation of racialism. And we are united by a common determination to preserve and stabilize peace in the world… .

We are often told “Colonialism is dead.” Let us not be deceived or even soothed by that. I say to you, colonialism is not yet dead. How can we say it is dead, so long as vast areas of Asia and Africa are unfree…

And, I beg of you do not think of colonialism only in the classic form which we of Indonesia, and our brothers in different parts of Asia and Africa, knew. Colonialism has also its modern dress, in the form of economic control, intellectual control, actual physical control by a small but alien community within a nation. It is a skilful and determined enemy, and it appears in many guises. It does not give up its loot easily. Wherever, whenever and however it appears, colonialism is an evil thing, and one which must be eradicated from the earth… .”


 Document three is an excerpt from The Manila Accord, which was issued on July 31, 1963. The document focuses on the agreement of Malaya, the Philippines, and Indonesia, which were all previously colonized countries. The three countries formed an alliance to enhance their stability and ensure the limit of foreign power in their region. Each country’s political and economic systems have been demolished by their colonizers, similar to the weakened manner in which the Dutch left Indonesia. All three countries are trying to join forces and form alliances to accelerate their path to industrialization and recovery. The document is a prominent accord between three previously colonized countries, showing their willingness to improve and regain their wealth and culture.

The Governments of the Federation of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia and the Republic of the Philippines, prompted by their keen and common desire to have a general exchange of views on current problems concerning stability, security, economic development and social progress of the three countries and of the region…

The three Ministers agreed to take the initial steps towards this ultimate aim by, establishing machinery for frequent and regular consultations. The details of such machinery will be further defined. This machinery, will enable the three governments to hold regular consultations at all levels to deal with matters of mutual interest and concern consistent with the national, regional and international responsibilities or obligations of each country without prejudice to its sovereignty and independence. The Ministers agreed that their countries will endeavor to achieve close understanding and cooperation in dealing with common problems relating to security, stability, economic, social and cultural development.

Townsend, Mary E. “Chart of Extent of Colonialism” European Colonial Expansion Since 1871. Chicago: J.P. Lippincott Company, 1941, p. 19. 

Sukarno. “Speech at the Opening of the Bandung Conference.”  18 Apr. 1955. Africa-Asia Speaks from Bandong. Djakarta Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 1955. (19-29)

“The Manila Accord.” 31 Jul. 1963. Embassy of the Philippines, Washington, D.C