Blumenfeld, Callie

dutch east indiesPrior to Dutch colonization, the people of the East Indies, now present day Indonesia, had a distinct social and political culture with thriving trade of resources such as ivory, sugar, and cotton cloth among a variety of countries. The indigenous population had undergone a multitude of European rulings over the course of their history, but none had set up a dominant colonization until the Dutch arrived in 1619. The Netherlands’ United East India Company, abbreviated VOC in Dutch, indirectly colonized the archipelago for commercial purposes. The VOC intended to monopolize the trade of the coveted resources within Indonesia in order to gain an advantage in trade over other European countries. Ports were established at multiple sites, the most prominent in Java, and the VOC retained colonial control over Indonesia until the late eighteenth century when the company dissolved. At that time, the Dutch government took control of the colony and named it the Dutch East Indies.

Following the arrival of and colonization by the Dutch, the social and economic structure of the indigenous peoples was altered in a detrimental manner. Intending to extract a plethora of resources and with the goal of high profit in mind, the Dutch established the Cultuurstelsel, or the Cultivation System, in Java, in which the peasant farmers were obligated to grow these resources in commercial crops for the Dutch. Taxes and demanding burdens were levied onto the poor farmers, therefore altering the structure of their previous lifestyle by forcing upon them a life of famine and impoverished conditions through the loss of potential profits previously gained through free trade. The economic ideologies and intended gains of the Dutch greatly altered the social lifestyle of the farmers who constituted a majority of the Indonesian population at the time. Specifically in Java, the removal of free trade and the introduction of Dutch products as exports altered the previous economic network. Almost all profits from the export of commodities such as coffee were taken by the Dutch, depriving the Indonesian people of economic growth and therefore any advancement in socioeconomic classes. The Dutch garnered all fertile land for use as Dutch plantations in the Cultivation System. By stripping the native farmers of their land once used for subsistence farming, the Dutch condemned the peasants to suffer through years of famine, altering the social structure of those lower classes in the process by removing their food source and causing them to resort to more barbaric means of finding food.

Trade profits were cut as the Dutch received most of the economic gains over the period of colonization, and this in turn altered the economic structure of Java. Due to lowered profits, the natives were subjected to destitute living conditions, greatly undermining any possible social growth during the time. Social structure was altered as Dutch officials employed indigenous ruling groups called pijaji to be responsible for the peasant labor and therefore added another rung to the socioeconomic ladder; these ruling groups obtained their wealth through the exploitation of peasant labor. This social system as an implementation of the Dutch altered the cultural life of the pijaji and of the peasants, as the pijaji now had another form of profit and the peasants another form of repression to bear. The introduction of the Dutch economic ideals during their colonization of Indonesia altered the economic structure of the native land and generated social change for the peasant farming community, creating years of indigent living, famines, and lost revenue for the natives through the Dutch lust for profit.

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