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Beyond the city wall: history of Batavia's hinterland

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the city of Batavia was supplied with produce by its hinterland, known as the Ommelanden. Bondan Kanumoyoso studied the history of the various ethnic groups that populated this area and in doing so has shed light on the structure of modern-day Indonesian society. PhD defence: 1 June.

Supplying the heart of the VOC

Bondan Kanumoyoso
Bondan Kanumoyoso

Batavia was built in the early 17th century by the VOC ( Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) as the centre for the Company’s ships, sailing to and from the Dutch Republic. As it developed, the city turned into one of the largest trading centres in Asia. In order to be supplied with the commodities needed for such a large centre, Batavia required a hinterland providing food crops, building materials and human resources: the Ommelanden.

Ethnic diversity

In Batavia’s early years, the city hardly produced any food for local consumption. To overcome this problem, the Colonial government populated the hinterland with peasants. However, since the local Javanese rulers were hostile, the Company found it safer to attract people from further away. As a result, the area was settled by Europeans, Chinese, Mardijkers and Indonesians. Kanumoyoso: "Most historians studying Batavia have focused on the history of the Dutch people living in the city itself. I wanted to try a different angle, and focus on the socio-economic development of the various indigenous ethnic groups of the hinterland. What was life like for them?"

Freedom under colonial rule

Although the highest authority in the Ommelanden was in the hands of the Colonial government, the limited budget and staff, combined with a population that grew steadily throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, meant that the Company’s intervention in local indigenous affairs was limited to the bare minimum. As a result, in daily life, the head of the kampung enjoyed a great deal of freedom in running their own affairs.

Understanding modern-day Indonesia

Kanumoyoso argues that in addition to this freedom, the very diverse ethnic groups making up the population of the Ommelanden found ways to collaborate and live together in harmony despite their differences. "These Batavians were able to maintain their own customs and their own habits. And in a very real way, they were the predecessors of modern-day Indonesians, so that looking at how they organised their lives and created a unified society from such heterogeneous backgrounds goes a long way towards explaining Indonesian society today." This kind of historical research is invaluable in providing a model of how people of various ethnic backgrounds can come together and create a new social order, a particularly relevant undertaking in our ever more mixed world.

PhD defence

Bondan Kanumoyoso
Beyond the City Wall: Society and Economic Development in the Ommelanden of Batavia, 1684-1740

Wednesday 1 June 2011, 13:45 hrs
Thesis supervisor: Prof. J.L. Blussé van Oud Alblas
Academy Building, Rapenburg 73

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