Pham Van Thuy - Scramble for Sumatra. Dutch imperialism in the Netherlands East Indies, 1810s-1910

The study is inspired by the fact that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Dutch attention in Indonesian archipelago was mainly restricted to Java, the Moluccas and a few isolated locations on other islands. Since the late 1810s, especially after the restitution of Batavia from British occupation (1811-1816), the Dutch colonial government aspired to expand its territorial control outside Java. Sumatra as well as the whole Outer Islands were now of great interest to the Dutch. The Dutch imperialist expansion in Sumatra was a long process which was only completed in the 1910s with the subjugation of the Aceh sultanate. The central questions are: What encouraged the Dutch to expand in Sumatra during the nineteenth century? How did they shape their imperialist expansion on the island? Was there a tug of war for Sumatra between the Dutch and the British?
Through this examination of the Dutch expansion in Sumatra, this study seeks to join the debate over Dutch imperialism, a topic which has been raging amongst Dutch scholars since the 1970s. Like several past studies, this paper demonstrates that there was a unique brand of Dutch imperialism, though it was labelled “informal”, “reluctant” or “peripheral” imperialism. The Netherlands was involved in the imperialist expansion in Sumatra because of a complex of motivations, including economic interests, international rivalries, and indigenous absorptions. The Dutch colonial government saw few direct economic advantages in Sumatra, but it had close and dependent relations with Dutch private investors. The need for measures to protect Dutch entrepreneurs required the Netherland Indies government to establish authority over Sumatra. Dutch expansion in Sumatra occurred in the context of contestations for territorial acquisition between Britain and the Netherlands. The threat of “pre-emption” of Sumatra by Britain, America, and other European powers prompted the Dutch to promote their expansion on the island from the second half of the nineteenth century. The internal warfare amongst Sumatran sultanates, such as the discord between Jambi and Palembang, the Padri War, and the Aceh War created ample opportunity for Dutch interference in local political affairs. In fact, the Dutch conquest of a state in Sumatra was often shaped by the collaboration or support of rival neighbouring kingdoms to the effort.

Pham has graduated for his Research MA degree in 2009.

Last Modified: 05-08-2014