The Dutch Political Conflict with the Republic of Indonesia, 1945-1949
Part 2-6: Papers of J. van Baal (1934-1964): New Guinea, Lombok/Bali
Jan van Baal (1909-1992) was a well-known cultural anthropologist who specialized in the study of the peoples of New Guinea. He was born into a strict reformed Protestant family in Scheveningen, the port of The Hague. After studying “indology” (the name then given for the program of study in preparation of becoming a civil administrator in the Netherlands Indies) and obtaining a doctorate at the University of Leiden with a dissertation on the Marind-Anim Papua people, he began his career in the Indies in 1934. He served first as junior controller in Java and Madura before being appointed in 1936 to the post of controller stationed at Merauke in South-New-Guinea, where he was to spend two years. In addition to his administrative duties, which included quelling uprisings, he gathered statistical and ethnographical data on the local population (the Marind of his dissertation) and studied their rituals and religion. In 1938 he was transferred to East Java. He had just commenced a research study of village structure on Lombok when the Japanese invaded in 1942. During the occupation (1942-1945) he was interned in Celebes (Sulawesi) and taught courses in ethnography to his fellow campmates, while working on a carefully concealed manuscript that formed the basis of his 1947 publication
Over wegen en drijfveren der religie (On ways and motives of religion). After his release he returned to the Netherlands until posted back to Java in July 1947 arriving the day the “First police action” against the forces of the Republic of Indonesia began (20 July). Subsequently he held the position of assistant-resident in Bali and Lombok, part of the new federal state of East Indonesia, but became disillusioned with the way the local rulers promoted their own interests while neglecting those of the population. He also worked briefly in Medan in Sumatra, where he had contact with the Republicans, whom he thought were better administrators.
Back to New Guinea
With the transfer of sovereignty to the Republic in December 1949, which he felt came too quickly and irresponsibly under American pressure, he again became increasingly involved in New Guinea affairs. The sovereignty over the western half of that still remote and little-known island had been retained by the Dutch in 1949, but was disputed by the Indonesians. He acted as secretary of the Dutch delegation to the New Guinea/Irian commission to discuss New Guinea’s status with Indonesia in 1950. In 1951 he became the first head of the newly created
Kantoor voor Bevolkingszaken (literally Office of Population Affairs, translated at the time as Bureau of Native Affairs), headquartered in Hollandia (now Jayapura), the colonial capital. The bureau’s task was to gather data on all aspects of New Guinea society (its archive is also available through Moran Micropublications). But Van Baal soon relinquished this fascinating work to stand for Parliament for the conservative Protestant Antirevolutionary Party (ARP). Though elected his stay in the Lower House was brief, for the Dutch government convinced him to accept the post of Governor of Netherlands New Guinea in April 1953 for a five-year term.
Van Baal proved to be a dedicated, hardworking and efficient governor, who authored an important work plan for the development of New Guinea. But he was also forced to spend much time and energy on bureaucratic infighting with the Ministry of Overseas Territories (
Ministerie van Overzeesche Rijksdelen), in particular over his budget. Civil servants at the ministry were still imbued with the classical colonial attitude that New Guinea should not only pay for itself, but also produce benefits for the mother country (the famous “batig saldo”) through, for example, large-scale projects in agriculture and mining. Van Baal, on the other hand, believed in a small-scale approach to agriculture and also that the colony should be led toward a steadily increasing measure of self-rule in keeping with the United Nations charter. Although at times he threatened to resign, Van Baal finished his term of governor as planned in 1958. He then returned to the Netherlands and later that year became professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Utrecht, where he remained until his retirement in 1973. He later published his memoirs of this long career in colonial service in a two-volume work entitled
Ontglipt verleden [A past that slipped away](1986-1989).
End of Dutch rule
After Van Baal’s departure the Dutch were only to rule over western New Guinea for a few more years. The Indonesian Republic had always maintained its claim to this territory, which it referred to as Irian Barat (west Irian). Starting in 1960 Indonesian president Sukarno began asserting it more aggressively, even attempting military infiltration from 1961, while at the same time raising the issue several times in the United Nations without being able to obtain a two-thirds majority for the Indonesian position. The Dutch government lacked a concrete plan for independence and first favored uniting western and eastern New Guinea. While the Dutch had made efforts on behalf of economic development and education, it was only in 1961 that a partly-elected New Guinea Council was set up with limited powers. Then the Dutch proposed a plebiscite among the Papuans under international auspices to decide their future status, also without winning the necessary majority in the UN. In the meantime international opinion remained divided on the issue, but the United States, fearing it might “lose” Indonesia to the Soviets, stepped up the pressure on the Dutch. Lacking the will and the means to face a military confrontation with the Indonesians, the Dutch ceded western New Guinea to a temporary UN administration on 1 October 1962. The UN then turned authority over to Indonesia on 1 May 1963 on condition that the population vote on its wishes after five years, a promise only partially fulfilled, according to many, by the still-disputed consultation that took place in 1969 .
Van Baal’s papers micropublished here concern his career in the colonial civil service from 1934 until 1958. The first part covers his early years in South-New-Guinea, including
• documents concerning the establishment of population registers and dossiers with statistical and ethnographic information on the local population.
The second part of the collection covers the years 1945-1950, especially
• documents of various sorts on the political, economic and social situation on Lombok and Bali.
The third part, by far the most extensive, concerns New Guinea in general from 1945 until the early 1960s. It can be subdivided as follows:
• reports and other documents from the period 1945-1950, including incoming reports on discussion of the New Guinea question at the Round Table Conference, 1949
• discussions in the ministers’ conference of the Netherlands-Indonesian union in early 1950 and in the New Guinea/Irian commission, 1950
• international correspondence 1950-1964, organized by year, conducted in several languages with a great many people, both inside and outside the government, in New Guinea, the Netherlands and other countries concerning a broad range of subjects, both official and unofficial, political as well as scientific
• documents concerning New Guinea as an international question 1950-1961 (especially 1951-1952), among others, reports from international bodies, such as diverse United Nations commissions
• documents concerning the internal administration of New Guinea in the most diverse sense, 1950-1958, including information on political, social, cultural and economic developments, agricultural and infrastructural projects, relations with Catholic and Protestant missions, education, republican sympathizers and Indonesian activities, cooperative organizations and organizations for the development and colonization of New Guinea, the situation of Indo-Europeans, anthropological and scientific reports, and many others.
J. van Baal,
Ontglipt verleden (vol. 1, Franeker: Wever, 1986; vol. 2, Franeker: Van Wijn, 1989)
NRC Handelsblad (27 September 1986; 23 September 1989) and
De Volksrant (24 September 1986; 16 September 1989).