Finding Aids for Dutch Colonial History from the National Archives of the Netherlands
Part 1: Index to the Public Archives of the Ministry of the Colonies, 1814-1849
The Ministry of the Colonies of the Netherlands was set up by royal decree in 1814 after French domination of the country under Napoleon had ended. It continued to exist until 1959 and saw to all colonial affairs for the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Dutch West Indies, including the mainland South American colony of Surinam and the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Martin. The West African "coast of Guinea" (present-day Ghana) was also a Dutch colony until it was ceded to Great Britain in 1872. It further was charged with maintaining contacts with the authorities of the colonies of other countries, such as Great Britain and with the governments of China and Japan. Its archives are kept in the National Archives of the Netherlands in the Hague (the former General State Archives) and are used extensively by historians and other scholars of Indonesia, the Caribbean and European colonialism.
The archives are ordered chronologically and are accessible through a series of indexes, calendars and registers compiled by the civil servants of the Ministry. These essential finding aids are the key to locating specific documents in the vast series that comprise these archives. Among the many subjects that can be traced using the indexes are:
• colonial government in general
• government of particular regions and places
• relations with indigenous authorities
• agriculture, mining and industry
• trade and relations with other powers
• finance, military matters, culture and religion
• political movements and unrest
Dutch colonialism in East and West, 1814-1960
From 1816 onwards when the Dutch regained the East Indies from the British after the Napoleonic wars, they began to reassert and expand their control. A new East Indian army (the KNIL), was set up and the exploitation of the colony for the benefit of the metropole began in earnest. By the 1820s social unrest among the Indonesian population was widespread. The rebellion that broke out on Java in 1825, under the leadership of Diepo Negoro, took five years to defeat and cost the lives of an estimated 200,000 people.
By the late 1820s colonial finances had been sapped and the Dutch were eager to make the colony a paying proposition. The authoritarian philanthropist and military officer Johannes van den Bosch launched his "cultuurstelsel" initiative at this time and was appointed governor general by King William I to install it. This system amounted to forcing the Indonesians to cultivate various cash crops to be paid to the colonial government, which would then sell them on the world market through the Dutch Trading Company (Nederlandsch handelmaatschappij) set up in 1824 under royal patronage. By 1840 the first famines provoked by increased exploitation were reported. By mid-century the system had brought great wealth to the colonial power, but was coming under more and more criticism both in Indonesia and the Netherlands. The constitutional reforms in the Netherlands in 1848 brought a measure of parliamentary control over colonial affairs and partial abolition of the cultuurstelsel in the 1850s. During the second half of the nineteenth century, however, the colony was opened to economic development by European capital.
Nationalism, war and decolonization
By the early twentieth century the Dutch had brought all the remaining areas of the archipelago, including Aceh on Sumatra, Bali, South Celebes and Lombok under colonial control with a series of military expeditions. At this time the so-called ethical policy was introduced to promote the interests of the Indonesian population through education. Although it only benefited a small group, increased education helped the incipient nationalist movement to gain ground. An Islamic mass movement was launched in 1912; the Indonesian Communist Party was founded in 1920; and in 1927 Sukarno's PNI saw the light of day. The Dutch reacted to these developments with repression, opening an internment camp for radicals and nationalists at Boven-Digul in New Guinea. During the Japanese occupation (1942-1945), the nationalists were freed and encouraged, but the Indonesian population was harshly exploited. At war's end in August 1945, Sukarno and Hatta proclaimed the Republic of Indonesia. The Dutch attempted to regain control of the colony by military means and by political maneuvering designed to divide the Indonesians. Increasing international pressure, especially from the United States, forced the Dutch to negotiate at a Round Table Conference that led to the transfer of sovereignty to the Republic in December 1949.
In the west a plantation economy using slave labor, which was not to be abolished until 1863, continued to characterize the Dutch colonies after their return by the British. But since the British had abolished the slave trade in 1806, it was not possible to replenish the supply of slaves and the West Indies possessions entered into decline, despite the efforts of King William I to make them a commercial pivot between Europe and America. With the abolition of slavery, many former slaves refused to work on the plantations and a system of contract labor had to be introduced whereby thousands of migrant workers from British India and Java were imported to Surinam, thus creating a much more heterogeneous society there. The discovery of bauxite in Surinam in 1922 led to the growth of a mining industry, while the establishment of a major oil refinery on Curaçao by Royal Dutch Shell prompted by the opening of the Panama canal (1914) had a great influence in the islands. After the Second World War, when allied troops were stationed in the West Indies, the growing desire for more autonomy led to two Round Table Conferences in 1948 and a new statute in 1954 that ushered in home rule. Surinam became independent in 1975, but the Antilles are still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.