Dutch and Native Officials

By 1830, in the aftermath of the bloody Javanese War, a revolt against Dutch control by Javanese aristocrats, the Dutch developed a generally standard approach to administering Java.  (The Netherlands had not yet gained complete control over many of the other islands in the archipelago and had differing degrees of control and relations with them.  They only dominated the entire archipelago in the 1910s.)  

In Java, the Governor-General, headquartered in Batavia, was supreme.  Under him, the island was divided into twenty-two residencies (provinces), each having a Dutch Resident.  A residency was divided into four or five regencies.  At this level, the Dutch official in authority was the assistant resident.  Also at the regency level was a native official in charge, the bupati, or regent.  (The bupati and all the Dutch officials and their European staffs, were appointed by colonial headquarters in Batavia.) 

The bupati passed orders and commands down to the native populations in his regency.  The native populations, however, were primarily guided by village heads and other sub-regional native officials. 

Here is a photo of the Bupati of Modjokerto, East Java, Raden Mashoedan, 1894-1916

In 1830, with the Netherlands close to bankruptcy, the Governor General, under pressure to make Java produce a profit, began the cultivation system on the island.  It was a management scheme under which villagers in Java were forced by native officials and leaders to assist in the cultivation and processing of cash crops, sugar cane, indigo, coffee, tobacco, etc. for plantations and production facilities usually owned by Europeans on 20% of village land.  The owners in turn exported the sugar, tobacco, etc.  Theoretically the villager-peasant made a profit from his labor (and under some variations a profit from a part of the cash crops he was forced to plant and tend and provide to the colonial authority).  Yet, he was generally the only participant in the cultivation system that did not benefit.  Rather, he became poorer.  Native officials, starting with the village chief and going up to the bupati, as well as many local and regional Dutch officials who monitored the process, almost  always skimmed profits while Amsterdam reaped unimaginable gains. Eventually, colonial officials concentrated almost entirely on the production of coffee and sugar, which was the most lucrative. 

Since rice was the staple of Javanese diets, as Javanese peasants began to lose lands used as rice paddies to sugar plantations under the scheme, outbreaks of famine and starvation increased.  The Dutch government recognized the ethical issues in their exploitation of the peasantry and steps were considered to phase the system out.  Yet, it was difficult; the system was too profitable, keeping the Dutch standard of living and wealth accumulation abnormally high throughout the nineteenth century.  Its phase out was very gradual, with a final end in 1919.