February 28, 2024

History of Indonesia: Colonial Period

Hiwj.orgThe story of Malacca’s wealth reached Europe and tempted the Portuguese, who possessed advanced navigation technology, to sail to this part of the world to have a greater influence on the world’s spice trade network (and would make their incomes higher). In 1511 Malacca was conquered by the Portuguese fleet under the leadership of Afonso de Albuquerque. Nevertheless, this conquest had far-reaching consequences for the trade route. Malacca, which used to be a rich port, quickly collapsed under Portuguese rule, which never succeeded in monopolizing Asian trade. Traders immediately began to avoid Malacca, afterward and went to take their business to several other ports.

The Netherlands is also interested in building a strong grip on the spice trade network in Southeast Asia. Their first expedition reached Banten in 1596 but was accompanied by animosity between the Dutch and the indigenous population. After arriving back in the Netherlands, this expedition still showed huge profits, which showed that the journey to the Southeast Asian region made a lot of money.

But so many expeditions held by several Dutch companies (to the archipelago), hurt their profits. Competition for spices boosted prices in the archipelago, while an increase in the supply of spices in Europe caused a decline in prices in Europe. This made the Dutch government decided to merge its competing companies into one business entity called the East Indies Trade Union ( Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie, abbreviated as VOC). They received high sovereign power to monopolize the trade of Asian spices and get rid of other European competitors. 

Read Also: Influence of Hinduism and Buddhism in Indonesia

The VOC decided to have its headquarters, not in Maluku (the heart of the spice-producing island) but more strategically located near the Malacca Strait and the Sunda Strait. The choice falls on Jakarta at this time. In 1619 Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen founded Batavia on the rubble of the city of Jayakarta, which was destroyed because of his hostility towards the Dutch. Batavia offered a good trading prospect, which led to the immigration of many people (mainly Chinese) to this rapidly developing city.

Towards Colonialism in Indonesia

Meanwhile, Islamic countries continue to develop in the archipelago. In Aceh (Sumatra), Sultan Iskandar Muda established high power in the early 17th century, controlling pepper and tin reserves. However, he never succeeded in establishing hegemony around the Straits of Malacca because Johor and the Portuguese were strong competitors. After the Iskandar Muda government, Aceh experienced a long period of internal divisions, which stopped it from becoming an essential force outside the northern tip of Sumatra.

In Central Java, two strong new Islamic powers emerged in the second half of the 16th century. This power is the Pajang and Mataram districts, which – after a long struggle – succeeded in stopping the political dominance of the coastal regions in northern Java. Mataram became the most potent and longest dynasty of the modern Javanese dynasty, with the reign of Sultan Agung as a political triumph. Sultan Agung came to power in 1613-1646 and succeeded in conquering almost all of mainland Java, except the kingdom of Banten in West Java and the city of Batavia. Dutch control of Batavia was like a thorn in the eyes of Sultan Agung, who wanted to rule the entire island. On two occasions, he sent his troops to conquer this Dutch city but failed both.

The VOC quickly spread its power in the Archipelago and gained control of clove and nutmeg production in the Banda Islands (Maluku) by using extreme measures such as mass slaughter. The VOC continued to expand its trading post network throughout the archipelago. Cities and ports that play a central role in the Dutch trade network are Surabaya (East Java), Malacca (West Malaysia), and Banten (West Java).

Although the VOC law initially did not allow disturbing the internal politics of the indigenous countries, the VOC was deeply rooted in the politics of Mataram in Central JavaAfter the death of Sultan Agung, Mataram quickly declined, and a succession dispute arose around the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The Dutch played a divisive and conquering tactic, which ultimately resulted in the division of the Mataram kingdom into four parts with its rulers subject to the Netherlands. Although the Dutch position was still weak outside of Java, this political development in Java could be considered an early stage of Dutch colonialism in the archipelago.

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