The Dutch and Indonesian history books disagree strongly on the history of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia. Most history books in The Netherlands use the Indonesian term tempu dulu to describe this period of history. Tempu dulu means as much as “the good old days”, and it is used because according to the history books most Indonesians were very pleased with Dutch rule. It is said there were some instances of Indonesian resistance against Dutch colonialism, but according to the history books these had nothing to do with things like oppression or exploitation of the Indonesians by the Dutch. They are said to have been caused by a desire for independence amongst some Indonesians.
The history books in Indonesia, on other hand, claim there was lot of resistance against Dutch colonialism because of the oppression and exploitation of the Indonesians by the Dutch. They agree, however, that what the Indonesian resistance wanted first and foremost was independence. The resistance of Indonesians had nothing to do with Islam or the Islamic State the Caliphate, so claim the history books in Indonesia.
Fortunately for those with a desire to find the truth, the Royal Library of The Netherlands has recently made old Dutch newspapers from the period 1618 – 1995 available on the internet. Reviewing these old newspapers can provide information about historic events as it was written down when the events occurred. In other words, before anyone had a chance to sit down and think about how they would like the events to be remembered. Using these newspapers, therefore, the period of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia can be reexamined independently. Through which the information and viewpoints given in today’s history books can be verified or discredited.
Occurrences of resistance against Dutch colonialism in Indonesia
Whoever searches in the old Dutch newspapers for the period 1850 – 1930 using search terms like “unrest”, “revolt” and “rebellion” will be overwhelmed by the amount of occurrences reported. Some of these occurrences were reported on by the newspapers over a longer period of time. For instance the rebellion at Bandjarmasin in 1850. One newspaper mentioned: “In the prior month of January, the western province of Borneo reported to the governor that in Bandjarmasin (…) a rebellion had broken out”. But this rebellion must have lasted for a long period as the Dutch newspapers kept on reporting about it for weeks.
Reviewing the decade following, starting from 1868 the newspapers reported about unrest on the island of Bali: “At Bali the situation is miserable. The rebel Ida Madeh Rahi not only did not want to follow our delegates, he is roving around with thousands of followers. (…) Military aid has already been requested and is highly necessary. But as of yet it has not arrived. Very soon, the administration will not be able to maintain their hold”. But unrest did not only occur at the island of Bali, also on the island Celebes (today Sulawesi): “According to a telegram received from Makassar, a certain kraëng Bonto-Bonto (…) has resisted our lawful rule in such a manner, that support from the military became required”.
A few years later again, in 1885, one Dutch newspapers mention regarding Indonesia: “Regarding the situation in Indonesia little can be said that is pleasant. The revolt of the Chinese in the western province of Borneo threatens (…) to expand to other areas. On the Toba Islands as well revolts have again broken out”. The tone of this article reveals that at that time unrests and revolts were a recurring phenomenon. And this was indeed the case.
For instance in Aceh the Dutch had been fighting a war since 1873. As of 1888 this revolt was still ongoing, the Dutch newspapers began to discuss what they called the “Aceh issue”. “A most annoying issue, this Aceh issue”, one newspaper headed.
In other places of the region revolts against the colonial rule were also taking place at that time. In 1888 the newspapers also discuss what they termed “The unrests in Bantam”, which is on the western side of Java Island. And just a few years later the problems for the Dutch on the island of Lombok are so big that a decision is made to send a large army to suppress the locals. “A decision has been made to send the army to Lombok”, the newspapers report in 1894. Aceh, by the way, was still in revolt at that time: “Again during the last few days unrests in Aceh were reported”, wrote a journalist from one newspaper. That he started his sentence with the again reveals that people had become accustomed to instances of Indonesian resistance against Dutch colonial rule.
During still later periods of the Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia revolts continue to take place all over the region. In 1902 de Dutch newspapers report about “The unrests in Sukabumi”. In 1907 a major topic is “Unrest in Kota Waringin”. In 1910 the topic is “Unrests in Makassar. In 1916 the news of the day is Djambi, Central-Java: From Surabaya we received word: the situation in Djambi is still critical”. And towards the end of the period under review, in 1927, there is major trouble for the Dutch nearby what today is Jakarta: “Unrest in Tangerang”, write the newspapers.
This was just a limited overview, of the most important and biggest occurrences of resistance against Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia over the period 1850 – 1930. It is a far from complete overview of all occurrences of resistance. It suffices, however, to make clear that there never was a time of tempu dulu, as the Dutch history books claim. At no moment during the period 1859 – 1930 were the majority of Indonesians satisfied and happy with Dutch rule, as is clear from all the instances of resistance that the Dutch newspaper report about. To the contrary, throughout the period the Dutch faced resistance against their rule over Indonesia on a continuous basis.
The Dutch description of the resistance in Indonesia
So contrary to what the Dutch history books claim today, the Dutch faced continuous resistance during the period 1859 – 1930. Regarding the reality of this resistance these history books claim that any resistance in Indonesia was caused by nationalism. It is said some Indonesians wanted their own state and therefore revolted against the Dutch.
But this claim regarding the reality of the Indonesian resistance is discredited by a review of the Dutch newspapers from the period 1850 – 1930. During that time, namely, the general opinion was that Islam caused the Indonesians to revolt. For instance the newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad said in 1859, regarding the revolt in Bandjarmasin which has already been mentioned: “We would like to consider again the well known causes for what happened in Bandjarmasin, in relation to other occurrences of unrest in other parts of the region. We have seen that, according to reports received by mister Van Twist from very reliable sources, the revolt in the south-eastern part of Borneo could be typified as distinctly Mohammedan, or anti-European”. In other words, according to the Algemeen Handelsblad newspaper what was shared between the revolt in Bandjarmasin, the revolt in Borneo, and revolts in other part of Indonesia, was that all of them were caused by the Islam of the Indonesians.
When looking at other instances of Indonesian resistance against Dutch colonial rule one again finds the Dutch newspapers accusing Islam of being the root cause. For instance in 1864 the newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad writes regarding the unrests in Tegal: “A certain Troeno (…) has tried to bring the people of Tegal to revolt against the European rule. (…) Apparently he used fanaticism as tool for this”. With the word fanaticism the newspapers at that time meant Islam.
In 1885 the newspaper Het Nieuws van den Dag even says that the Indonesians saw their own resistance as Jihad a purely Islamic motivation. Jihad translates to prang sabil in the Indonesian language: “In Sukabumi the people now have five places where religious groups can gather. (…) The people that belong to these groups, the fanatics, remain together after Friday prayer to discuss the prang sabil, the Holy War. (…) See here what is taking place in Sukabumi. Is this not dangerous enough?”. It is hard to imagine a more clear proof that the Indonesian resistance against Dutch colonialism was motivated by Islam.
In 1894 the newspaper Algemeen Handelsblad even states that with the exception of Islam, no other explanation for the resistance against the Dutch is acceptable: “The ruling race is very tolerant against the other peoples, the revolts at Lombok Island are most likely, according to those familiar with them such as Mr. Willemsen, caused by Mohammedan fanaticism.” And when the newspaper Het Nieuws van den Dag notes there is a relationship between the resistance of the Indonesians and the Muslim fasting month Ramadan, in Indonesian puasa, then this can only be understood as meaning the resistance of the Indonesian Muslims was motivated by their Islam: “Yesterday (…) nearby Anak-Guleng (…) there was significant shooting taking place. (…) The puasa (Big Fasting) has begun and a jahat who falls during this time in prang sabil is certain of paradise”.
During later years the newspapers continued to blame Islam for the unrests in Indonesia. For instance in 1904 the newspaper Het Nieuws van den Dag wrote: “(…) at that moment people informed him that in Sukabumi ‘violent unrests’ had taken place that showed a close resemblance with the unrests in Sumedang and Sidoarjo. He ascribed these unrests to fanaticism.” And in the same year this newspaper wrote regarding revolts in other places: “The force that comes with fanaticism is one we should be highly considerate of. (…) Recently this force has been in full swing, as can be seen in Jambi, Korintji, the Gaju Islands. The tragedy in Tjilegon, the calls for fanaticism in other places, and now the unrests in Gedanggan, they all prove it. These unrests in Sidoarjo, essentially under the noses of two of our army garrisons, show us this force.”
In 1907 the cause behind the resistance was no different, according to the newspaper Het Nieuws van den Dag: “Here in Serang, actually in the entire Bantam region, the people are talking a lot about the recent unrest in Barong (…). This can be easily explained, as it is no secret that the people here practice fanaticism and that not much is required to have another resistance movement getting started.” In 1908 it is essentially the same: “Now we know that (…) again a Mohammedan sect, the Satria, had a hand in all this – again providing proof that the administration for Indonesia cannot act too firm against (must act very firm against, translators note) this fanaticism that receives its motivation from the west, that undermines our authority en causes a continuous danger to it. (…) Holy War against the “kuffar” was preached, and almost completely unexpected during the middle of this month again a very serious resistance erupted.” In 1910 the newspaper Sumatra Post blamed Islam for the revolt in Padang: “Since those days (of revolt, translators note), signs of fanaticism showed itself regularly, and through that it became clear how much the Priaman area, in the Lower Countries of Padang, is a breeding ground for fanatic Mohammedans from the Satria sect; who, according to official reports, were also primarily responsible for the armed resistance in 1908”.
These commentaries in the Dutch newspapers regarding the instances of resistance in Indonesia make clear there was a consensus in the Netherlands that the Islam of the Indonesians was the real cause for all of this. Islam was seen by the Dutch as the root cause and nationalism isn’t even mentioned. This means that today’s history books in the Netherlands do not only belittle the resistance when they say resistance occurred only sporadically; they also describe it incorrectly when they say it came forth from nationalistic aspirations. And the same can be said regarding the Indonesian history books of today: they describe the Indonesian resistance against Dutch colonialism incorrectly when they say this came forth from nationalistic aspirations.
 “Kraëng” is the title of a prince on Sulawesi.
 Jahat literally means “evil person”, but the Dutch used this term for those the Muslims called “shaheed” (martyr), because the marter is the one for whom paradise is guaranteed.