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Influences from the West
Garrisons and guerrillas

In the 18th century the demand for pepper descended, and the rulers of Aceh lost their control over the inland area's like Aceh and Palembang because of this. The economy now was in European hands. The Dutch founded their headquarters in Padang in 1685, and in 1685 the English did the same in Bengkulu. Both became centres of rivalling trading networks, but in military way, they were fragile.

In 1719 the English were scared out Bengkulu by the local population and they controlled the city for a long time. These far-away lonely outposts also got the attention of the French. In 1760 Comte d'Estang occupied Bengkulu for several months, and in 1803 his countryman Linious looted the fortress and the city. The Dutch Padang was just as vulnerable, and came under British rule from 1781 to 1784 and 1795 to 1816.

British servants in Bengkulu first made detailed reports about the mountainous areas of Batak in Northern Sumatra, and the island Nias. Raffles visited the Minangkabau capital Pagarruyung in 1818, and about Nias he told very enthusiastically that is was without doubt the most noble population he had ever seen.

He was stunned by the fact that the islands was the most important source of slaves for Aceh, the Dutch and French colonies and even for the British settlements of Bengkulu and Penang. In 1820 Raffles called independence on the island, but the government in London refused to acknowledge that.

Pepper, coffee and tin

From about 1780 a new phase of commercial expansion started. British and Tamil merchants from India, British and Chinese traders from the new British harbour in Penang (founded in 1786), and Americans from Salem, Providence and New London arrived in Sumatra. The Americans found pepper producers outside the area of control of Aceh along the western coast between Sibolga and Meulaboh.
In the beginning of the 19th century the area exported more than 5 million kilo's every year, mostly by Americans. In the Minangkabau area, gambir (to make leather products), cassia (replacement for cinnamon) an from 1790 coffee too, attractive new kinds. Because the Sumatran rulers, and afterwards the VOC could not enlarge their power base, Sumatra became more interesting to colonists, which housed in the areas to grow products for exports.

The absence of influential powers was a good thing for foreign traders, but whenever commercial differences ended up in violence, their own marines were called in to solve the problem. The Americans started this cannon-boat-diplomacy by attacking Acehnese coastal villages in 1826 and 1838. After that the French did the same in 1839 and 1840. When Napoleon was finally defeated and the Dutch got back their possessions from the English, they almost had to start all over again.

Economically they were nothing, and military they were tied up by the Java War (1825-1830), so they had to accept that others ruled over the trade on Sumatra. With their restricted military power they annexed one seaport at the time. The Sumatrans didn't accept this gradual extension without battle.

The argument between the English and the Dutch about their rights was temporarily ended in 1824, when the English no longer claimed Sumatra, but Malakka. In 1825 the Dutch got control over Palembang and the tin-mining islands of Bangka and Belitung. The Dutch also inherited an English conflict with a militant Islamic movement in the Minangkabau highlands, which was known as Paderi. This conflict lasted until 1837, when their leader Imam Bonjol, was killed.

Dutch conquests

The Paderi-movement stirred whe Minangkabau region as well as the region of the Batak. From 1820 the southern Batak area was conquered from Bonjol by Minangkabau. The most renowned leader of this holy war was Tuanku Rao, a Batak which converted to the militant Islam. He lead the Paderi-group which forced portions of Mandailing- and Ankola areas to the Islam.

It seems that Tuanku Rao has lead his troops even more north, where he tried to convert the Batak around Danau Toba (Lake Toba), but he didn't succeed in that. European efforts to convert Batak to Catholicism didn't work out initially. Only halfway the 19th century some progress was made here.

From 1820 to 1841 the Dutch gradually conquered the Minangkabau area and they also built strategical fortresses in the highlands. Because of this the most densely populated area of Sumatra also became Dutch property. The garrisons were paid by the obliged delivery of coffee at fixed prices. There was no shortage of land, so the active Minangkabau also started to produce their own coffee, tea, tobacco, sugar and gambir, so they could use the improving communication and the growing markets. This caused the growth of a wealthy middle-class traders.

This group of people reacted enthusiastically on efforts of the Dutch to give the Indonesians some modern education. In 1840 they started to found their own schools. Against 1872 almost 1200 Minangkabau-children went to school, much more than on Java, where education was a privilege of the aristocracy. This first generation, which was fluent in Jawi (Malay-Arabic language) as well as latin writing, caused Indonesia to have big numbers of civil servants in the 20th century, as well as political activists, teachers and journalists.

The Dutch progression along the eastern coast of Sumatra was hampered by ongoing protests of British merchants in Singapore and Penang. In 1858 a Dutch expedition was sent to Siak to kick out an English adventurous. Another expedition was held to point Langkat, Deli, Serdang and Asahan at the Dutch law, since they tried to get British sovereignty and trade.

These small states were a rich treasury because of their volcanic soils which seemed ideal for producing tobacco. The Dutch pioner Jacobus Nienhuys went to Deli (the area around Medan) in front of the Dutch army, and established Deli's reputation within ten years. It was that place that produced the worlds best covering leaes for cigars. British complaints were put away by the fact that their economy was supported by base materials from the place.
Between 1870 and 1890, 20,000 Chinese labourers were brought in yearly as lumberjacks and maintaining tobacco-plantations. Later, the farmers used cheaper and better Javanese labourers. In the 1920, just before the end of contracted labour, 26,000 Javanese worked on the plantations. Medan, Binjai, Pematang Sianter and Tanjung Balai developed into prosperous cities. The unimportant raja's (kings) along the coast which ruled over the river mouths, profited in a big way from the royalties from the plantations and the oil.

The Aceh-Wars

The best test for the Dutch colonialism on Sumatra was the Acehnese sultanate, which never wanted unfair treaties with the Dutch. Aceh had richness, weapons and foreign contacts because of trade in pepper and pinang. Furthermore, Raffles had signed a treaty between England and Aceh over mutual protection in 1817, and in the treaty between England and the Dutch in 1924, the Malay-speaking world was separated into two pieces, which also ensured independence for Aceh.

In 1871 England loosened their repressions towards Acehnese annexation, this cleared the road for a hard Dutch approach. The first Dutch attack was a badly prepared reaction on energetic Acehnese efforts to sign a defensive treaty with Turkey, France and the United States. The American consulate in Singapore agreed send a concept treaty between Aceh and America to Washington, but he didn't get any support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A Dutch force of 3,000 soldiers stormed the Acehnese capital in April of 1873, but withdrawled a few weeks after after the loss of a commander and 80 men. After this defeit the Dutch recruited the biggest force they ever brought together in the East Indies, and they went back with 10,000 men in December the same year. The Acehnese fortress was taken six weeks after during an epidemic of cholera which took at least 1,000 lives at both sides. However, this was just the first chapter of a war which would last until 1903 and which kept Dutch men, money and materials of defence for thirty year.

Halfway the 1880's the ulama (Islamic scholars), which wanted a holy war against all prize, got the lead of the Acehnese resistance. The Dutch graveyard in Banda Aceh is a monument for the more than ten thousand victims at Dutch side which died of diseases and injuries. For the Acehnese, which lost more than five times as much people, is the remembrance of the numerous heroes, of which some are now known as national heroes, are their monuments.

Under them is the uleebalang (district leader) Teuku Umar, which deserted to Acehnese side in 1896, after he was named one of the most important Dutch allies. Others are Teuku Umar's fierce wife Cut Nyak Dien and the ulama Cik di Tiro, which called the Dutch governor to accept Islam, because he wanted to avoid the inevitable killing of the religious. Aceh was an occupied province until the end of the Japanese occupation. When the Japanese got near in 1942, the province revolted, and banned the Dutch troops.

At Dutch side, the eventual success was pointed at two men. General J.B. van Heutsz, military governor of Aceh from 1898 to 1904, which followed an iron rule of continued prosecution, which was eventually rewarded with the appointment to governor-general (1904-1909). Unmissable was the Orientalist Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, one of his representatives, and the designer of the Dutch policy which accepted Islam in religion, but suppress every appearance of Islam in politics. After 1904, this policy was adapted to entire Indonesia. Dutch troops got into every corner of Sumatra, and towards 1910 the entire island was subjected to one rule; but it was totally not popular with it's inhabitants.

Last revised on September 02, 2011
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