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Rianti Manullang MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: Asian History, Colonialism & Postcolonialism, Identity, Languages & Literature

Cohort/Start PhD: 2023-2024

Traces of Indonesian Resistance and Identity in Dutch Literature (1860-1949): A Double Postcolonial Perspective

Leiden University
Supervisors: Prof. Prof. dr. Rick Honings, Dr. Coen van ‘t veer
Duration: 1 September 2023 – 1 September 2027

Indonesia has long been known for its richness of spices. This wealth of ancestral heritage is now being revived with a program entitled ‘Indonesia Spice Up the World’, which is a cross-sector collaboration between ministries and institutions to promote spices globally and to create economic impact. If we look back in the past, the first encounter of the Dutch in Indonesia was also related to spices. They were drawn to Indonesia by the promise of immense profits in the spice trade. This is where everything began. After the first Dutch ship arrived in the archipelago in 1595, there had been many people who were interested in exploring the many commodities of the ‘exotic’ land, trading nutmegs, cloves, and mace as the most expensive and luxurious spices in Europe. After the spices were discovered and cultivated in Europe, the Dutch tried to exploit other commodities, such as sugar, coffee, pepper, and tobacco, then supplemented with highly profitable exports of petroleum, rubber, copra, palm oil, and fibers. Driven by the desire to gain more profits and more authority above the land, Dutch colonialism started.

Paradoxically, Dutch colonialism also provided the format for Indonesian identity. Not only were the many peoples of the various islands unified under colonial rule, before 1945, Indonesian identity was associated with political mobilization against the foreign colonizer. The increasing Dutch dominance over the commodity and the people in the archipelago did not come without resistance. The indigenous people did not passively accept the repression, but they tried to resist, physically and mentally. The most famous and prolonged battle during this period of Dutch expansion was the Aceh War that started in 1873 and lasted until 1913, resulting in the deaths of more than 100,000 people. There were also another micro and macro level of conflicts that happened, while the indigenous were trying to defend their land or belonging. From various unpleasant circumstances, indigenous people from Aceh to Papua established social collectivism in the ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, 1983) of unified Indonesia. They assembled their power to face a collective enemy, the Dutch, and to strive for independence.

The issue of Indonesian resistance has been a controversial and much-disputed subject within the field of Dutch and Indonesian history. Moreover, the resistance is very closely related to the conflict of commodities and power. The in-depth description of the Dutch travel writing will shed a light on the core problems of Indonesian resistance and identity formation. Therefore, further research to trace the roots of the Indonesian identity and history in the Dutch literature is much needed and very relevant. Through the postcolonial framework, the Dutch texts can be reread and analyzed from an Indonesian point of view. The counter perspective will offer a new approach to Indonesian identities and their resistance to Dutch colonialism.