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History of Bengkulu
An island where traditional belief is still strong

In the past, a kingdom named Selebar existed in the area of Bengkulu. It was a vassal state of Banten, and the latter's main source of pepper, cloves, nutmeg and coffee, the trade commodities on which the Javanese Kingdom thrived. On July 12, 1685, Selebar signed a treaty with the British East India Company which gave the Britisch the right to build a warehouse and fortification.

First, the British built Fort York. Then, another one arose, located more to the north. Built in 1713-1719, this latter fortification was named Fort Marlborough. It was the British power seat and influence in these western parts of the archipelago until 1825, when under the terms of the London Treaty, England handed over the Dutch territory in exchange for others, ended 139 years of British power in Bengkulu.

Bengkulu was the only British colony in Southeast Asia for over 140 years. It was founded as an alternative source for pepper, after the Dutch gained rule over Banten in the 17th century. This small British outpost along a low populated shore however has never been of much value in fact.

The importance of pepper on the world market was rapidly descending and Bengkulu was too far away from the main trade routes to mean anything. From 1685 to 1825 the books of the British East Indian Company reports very bad trade, boredom and early death because of malaria.

The British thought that the local population was 'indolent' and it was usual to punish their leaders. When William Dampier was in Bengkulu in 1690, he found two of those leaders chained because 'they didn't bring in the demanded amount of pepper to the Fortress'. Outside protests of the British government, this form of punishment was common into the beginning of the 19th century.

Bengkulu was awakened from apathy during Raffles reign (1818 - 1824), but in 1825 the colony was transferred to the Dutch, in trade for the acknowledgment of the British influence on the Malaysian peninsula and Singapore. During his stay in Singapore, Raffles started to explore the sea, what eventually ended in the founding of Singapore.

His enjoyment over the booming economy of his new colony was overshadowed by the sad fact that three of his four children died in Bengkulu. The British influence was kept limited to the small coastal planes. The Dutch annotated the mountainous hinterlands in the 19th century after a number of military expeditions.

Shortly before the turn to the 20th century the Dutch discovered that the mountains near Bengkulu contained tremendous gold deposits and the province soon became the biggest gold-producing province of the Dutch Indies.


Last revised on October 24, 2009
    
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