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Dutch Colonial Era

Between 1680 and 1800 ‘the Company’, as it was commonly known, exercised strict control over spice production on the islands and the people living there. They organized production of food and spices forcing local communities to fulfill quotas, essentially using them as slave labor. If a town or village did not organize their lives for the production of spices they faced harsh penalties. Life under the Dutch was harsh in many cases and there were many cases of the torture of Indonesians if they refused to cooperate or did not produce what was expected of them.
Some native communities did put up resistance against the Dutch, most notably the warrior tribes on the island of Java. Because of fierce resistance here, the Dutch did not completely gain control over this island until 1830, and only had rice grown on it to feed workers on other islands. This way, if they did completely lose control there, only food destined for Indonesians would suffer, not the spice trade. Dutch citizens who settled in the trade ports oversaw native labor but treated the Indonesians poorly because they saw them as inferior. In some cases they hired workers from other countries to oversee the workers so that they would not have to deal directly with any Indonesians.
While the Dutch East India Company made massive profits in Europe, they spent most of their earnings trying to control an uncontrollable Indonesia. Between fighting other European countries, fighting and ruling over the native populations and building forts and roads to house and transport spices and troops; the company had spent more than it had earned. The Dutch East India Company went bankrupt in 1800. For a short period of time after this control over the islands was inconsistent, but in 1816 the government of Holland took over the role that the Dutch East India Company had played. Europe did not want to live without the spices that came from the islands. The government brought firmer control over the Islands, finally conquering Java, and established the cultivation system as a way to make Indonesia more profitable. In this system each village was required to either devote 20% of its land to production for the government or else each native Indonesian had to work on a government farm 60 days each year. The Dutch paid workers to oversee and enforce this system.
Holland’s government grew wealthy from their trade. They relied on the production of cash crops such as spices, sugar, tobacco, indigo and later rubber and coffee. All of these crops could last through the months long voyage from Indonesia to Europe. They were also crops that the Dutch could sell in Europe for exceptionally high prices. Because of their insistence on growing cash crops, millions of people throughout the islands experienced famine or epidemics of disease because not enough affordable food were being grown to feed everyone. Communities often found when they brought their cash crops to market and the price being offered for them was low, they were unable with their profit to afford the prices food was being sold at.

Cinnamon Harvest

Both to improve the shipment of goods and to improve the economy of Indonesia, the Dutch engaged in massive infrastructure projects in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some small education and medical improvements were made in the country, but other Dutch projects were more helpful to the people. They rebuilt ports, built and maintained roads, railroads and bridges, irrigated thousands of acres of fields. They also improved many town's drinking water systems. These projects brought some small measure of wealth to the native people and, after independence, helped the country's economy to be able to grow quickly.

Dutch East Indies 1602-1949 Part II

This video has some of the same information as the reading above along with more pictures. You may watch it if you have finished the reading and are interested.