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An Indonesian Frontier

Acehnese and Other Histories of Sumatra

Anthony Reid

Sumatra is a vast and understudied island with a population of 43 million people divided into a variety of ethnic groups. Apart from William Marsden's great study of 1783, few serious historical works deal with Sumatra's history, and even fewer attempt to describe that history as a coherent whole.
Sumatra's rich resources of land and minerals, and its enterprising people, have made it the prosperous frontier of the Archipelago. But the island's people, most of whom were stateless highlanders until the 20th century, were politically united only by the rule of Dutch Batavia and Indonesian Jakarta. Sumatrans have a tradition of defying central authority, and the Acehnese are once again, as in Dutch times, kept in the nation only by force.
This book is the fruit of 40 years' study of Sumatran history, from the 16th century to the present. While seeking patterns of coherence in this vast island, it focuses on Aceh, which has both the most illustrious past and the most troubled present of any Sumatran region.

Jakarta Batavia

Socio-Cultural Essays


Edited by Peter J.M. Nas

This book combines the work of twenty-one authors from East and West, some of whom are long-time residents of Jakarta and all of whom have lived and studied there for shorter or longer periods. They have in common that each of them has become fascinated by certain characteristics of Jakarta’s many-sided life. The subjects they deal with range from conditions in VOC Batavia to particular national or ethnic communities to administrative developments. The essays on early colonial Batavia yield new insights into the demographic situation bases on archival research, and those essays dealing with more modern topics make use of special sources, including maps, that are not easily accessible through libraries. Reading through this volume one encounters striking parallels between the past and the present, because many aspects of present-day Jakarta are deeply rooted in the history of the city: demography and urban morphology, environmental absurdities, traffic, and floods as well as ritual and symbolism. Historians, anthropologists, sociologists, administrators, and town planners may well draw inspiration from this kaleidoscopic picture of Indonesia’s capital.


H. Gooszen

The author offers a reconstruction of regional variations in the growth of the indigenous population of Indonesia from 1880 till the Japanese invasion in 1942. The demographic components of population growth (migration, fertility and mortality) are not only presented as demographic statistics but also interpreted as the aggregate effects of major events in the lives of indigenous people. Hence, migration is described in relation to employment opportunities, the social structure, and tradition; fertility is examined in the light of aspects of family formation, including marriage customs and birth control practices; and mortality is linked to epidemics and Western health care.

Muddied Waters

Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Management of Forests and Fisheries in Island Southeast Asia


Edited by P. Boomgaard and David E.F. Henley

This book examines the history of human interaction with forest and marine ecosystems in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Rainforests falling to snarling chainsaws, and factory trawlers emptying the life out of tropical seas, are nowadays among the most familiar images of Southeast Asia. Yet the present excessive levels of logging and fishing have emerged only within the last generation. Until a few decades ago it was common for marine and forest-related economic activities in Southeast Asia to have limited, and in the long run rather stable, effects on the environment. Did this relative stability simply reflect lower population densities, less well developed markets, and less efficient extraction technologies? Or was it the result of successful resource management techniques and institutions? If so, why have these since failed or been abandoned? Seventeen contributions by an international selection of expert authors cover topics ranging from the collection of rattan, beeswax and forest resins in the seventeenth century to the management of modern marine nature reserves. Muddied waters is essential reading for anyone interested in the environmental history of Southeast Asia, whether in connection with other aspects of this particular region, or in relation to patterns of environmental change and resource management in other parts of the world.

Forests of Fortune?

The Environmental History of Southeast Borneo, 1600-1880


H. Knapen

The onslaught on the Bornean rain forest is a recurrent theme in the media today. Studies dealing with the island, however, have largely ignored the long-term antecedents of modern environmental changes and problems. Yet phenomena such as forest fires, logging, the decimation of animal populations, and lack of arable land are far from new, even for a sparsely populated island like Borneo. This book is the first attempt to deal with the long-term interrelation between humans and their environment in Borneo, going back to the moment when first historical information becomes available in the early seventh century.
The book deals with the relationship between people and the natural environment in Southeast Borneo, based on many hitherto unused primary sources. It describes the ways in which people made a living within the wide range of environments found here, focusing on agriculture, hunting, fishing, animal husbandry, forest exploitation, and the collection of products for the market. It deals with the impact of these activities on the natural environment and attempts to explain why most areas were strikingly little affected until modern times, yet others showed clear signs of human occupation and exploitation from an early date.

Fertility, Food and Fever

Population, Economy and Environment in North and Central Sulawesi, 1600-1930


David E.F. Henley

Combining historical geography with historical demography, and conceived as a study in environmental history, this book examines the long-term relationship between population, economy and environment in the northern half of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Using a rich variety of Dutch historical sources, including VOC and missionary archives, it attempts to reconstruct and analyse patterns of demographic, economic and landscape change throughout this large and ecologically diverse region over a period of almost three and a half centuries. Particular attention is given to the articulation between demographic and economic growth, to levels and determinants of reproductive fertility, to changing disease environments, and to the question of agricultural sustainability and its preconditions. The results call into question some common views regarding the reasons for low population growth, and the relationship between population density and landscape change, in the Southeast Asian past.

Monsoon Traders

Ships, Skippers and Commodities in Eighteenth-Century Makassar


Edited by Gerrit Knaap and Heather A. Sutherland

Makassar was one of those early-modern Southeast Asia kingdoms which has been seen as exemplifying The Age of Commerce, both in its trade based prosperity in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, and its decline into insignificance following conquest by the Dutch East Indies Company in 1667. However, statistical analysis of the Dutch harbourmasters registers (which listed incoming and outgoing non-Company traffic) reveals that Makassar actually succeeded in establishing new and profitable networks after a difficult period of transition. Initially the Company confined the port’s private sector overseas trade and shipping within narrow limits, but by the middle of the eighteenth century new routes and traders had emerged. Whereas slaves and rice had once been predominant exports, focused upon the colonial centres of Batavia and Maluku, by the mid-1700s sea produce, in particular sea cucumbers, had become the most important commodity. This marine product was in great demand in China, and the consequent dramatic shift in Makassars commercial profile was reflected in new patterns of exchange, within which Chinese merchants and skippers gradually surpassed all other ethnicities in importance. This volume provides detailed material on shipping, crews, armament, routes, merchandise and skippers, and hence offers unique insights into both the trade of Makassar itself, and the wider transformations of Asian commerce in the eighteenth century.

Minorities, Modernity and the Emerging Nation

Christians in Indonesia, a Biographical Approach


G. van Klinken

This book examines the development of Indonesian nationalism from the viewpoint of a minority: the urban Christian elite. Placed between the Indonesian nationalist promise of freedom and the (equally Christian) Dutch colonial promise of modernity, their experience of late colonialism was filled with dilemma and ambiguity. Rather than describe dry institutions, this study traces the lives of five politically active Indonesian Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, spanning the late colonial, Japanese occupation and early independence periods: Amir Sjarifoeddin, Bishop Soegijapranata, Kasimo, Moelia and Ratu Langie. For most of them the main problem was not so much the protest against colonialism, but the transition to more modern forms of political community. Their status as a religious minority, and as urban middle class 'migrants' out of their traditional communities, made them more aware that achieving moral consensus was problematic.
This book should be of interest to students of Indonesian history, as well as those studying the history of Third World nationalism and the history of Christian missions.


J. Breman

Land reforms are usually associated with political regimes trying to restructure rural society in accordance with principles of equality and justice. In striking contrast the colonial land reform discussed in this book led to the introduction of a land floor below which small owners lost their property rights. Thus the regional authorities dealt very firmly with the agrarian crisis which became manifest in Cirebon residency in West Java at the beginning of the 20th century. The study explores the historical background of these developments, highlighting the role of agribusiness in the underdevelopment of the peasant economy. Underlying the new, rather drastic policy was the colonial government’s attempt to encourage social differentiation at the village level in order to pave the way for capitalistic agricultural development. Caught between the dominant interests of the large-scale sugar estates in the area and the ideals of the protagonists of a doctrine of more populist inspiration, the land reform was bound to fall short of the stated objective: the development of a viable peasantry which would become the economic and political backbone of a stable colonial order. The final part of the book, in which the analysis shifts from the regional to the national level, discusses rural stratification and rural policies in post-colonial Indonesia.

Chinese Law

Knowledge, Practice, and Transformation, 1530s to 1950s


Edited by Li Chen and Madeleine Zelin

The twelve case studies in Chinese Law: Knowledge, Practice and Transformation, 1530s to 1950s, edited by Li Chen and Madeleine Zelin, open a new window onto the historical foundation and transformation of Chinese law and legal culture in late imperial and modern China. Their interdisciplinary analyses provide valuable insights into the multiple roles of law and legal knowledge in structuring social relations, property rights, popular culture, imperial governance, and ideas of modernity; they also provide insight into the roles of law and legal knowledge in giving form to an emerging revolutionary ideology and to policies that continue to affect China to the present day.

This book is also available in paperback