Universiteit Leiden

nl en

PhD project

Bordering Up: Regulating Mobility Through Passes, Walls and Guards

How did Dutch Colonial Institutions Control Mobility of Individuals/Groups Within, Between and Beyond Colonies?

2017 - 2021
Catia Antunes

IISG: Prof Ulbe Bosma (supervisor) and Dr Matthias van Rossum (co-supervisor)

Leiden Partners: Prof Cátia Antunes and Dr Karwan Fatah Black

Dutch colonial institutions did not invent segregation. As well as existing in many Asian and European cities, it is a general phenomenon in pre- and post-industrial societies (Constable 2003; Van Goor 2015). The highly diverse, mobile societies in Dutch colonial settings were regulated through forceful residential segmentation and control of accessibility and movement (Raben 1996; Miranda 2011). Cities in particular were divided into exclusive quarters, with private and public spaces secured by walls, ports, canals and guards. Accessibility depended on individual status, gender, origin and religion, demonstrated by differences in clothing (Niemeijer 2005), color and spoken language. Social and racial profiling was furthered through bureaucratic identification, such as written passes from domestic and state authorities (Van Rossum/Kamp 2016) and local adaptations of general segregating rules (Taylor 1983; Raben 1996; Niemeijer 2005).

We hypothesize that this was a way to ensure that different forms of control of the economic and social order became increasingly effective. In Asia, the VOC aimed to control its contract workers and slaves as an employer, while as a ruler it increasingly relied on mobilizing compulsory work (corvée) and imposing tax obligations on local subjects. Specific obligations were assigned to specific colonial populations. While the imposition of compulsory cultivation of specific crops required spatially sedentary behavior on the part of the working population (Breman 2010), tasks such as the transportation of log wood, loading of company vessels and digging of canals and rivers called for relatively high degrees of mobility (Wagenaar 1994; Nagtegaal 1996; Knaap 2004). Therefore, the movements of not only the Tamil or Western African slaves, but also the Javanese peasant or Brazilian planter/senhor de engenho needed to be effectively controlled in order to ensure that the compulsory obligations imposed by colonial rule were fulfilled.

The economic and social rationale behind policies of mobility control explains the resilience and evolution of various forms of administrating diversity. Several cultivations such as coffee, cloves and sugar survived the period of Early Modern colonial expansion, leaving regulations on the rural free and unfree laborers in place. While, on the one hand, the chancing structure of economic life under Dutch colonial and, later, imperial rule required adaptations in the governance of plurality, the system itself developed its own rigidities, with the framing of the colonial and imperial census being a case in point (Raben 1996; Bosma and Raben 2007; Miranda 2011). Nonetheless, cultural markers such as religion and language could cross administrative boundaries, a situation that often resulted in slave and master, for example, sharing the same cultural background. On the other hand, authorities (state/institutional or familial/paternal) could overlap and conflict in the private and public spheres.

Curiously, a person’s condition could change, from slave to burgher, for example, during a lifetime. Opportunities for ascending the social and ‘cultural’ ladder provided Dutch urban colonial life with a certain degree of mobility and the possibility of intra- and inter-communal dynamics, and thus led to the development of hybrid and pluri-cultural social spaces. Over time, however, opportunities for social advancement became rarer as the administrative categorization through census and enforcement by court decisions contributed to a stronger ‘racial’ categorization (a phenomenon better studied for the East than for the West).

Insights into the enforcement and contestation of administrative categorizations and regulations can be gained from the judicial archival material. Relevant court recors are available, digitized and indexed (or to be indexed) for Batavia, Cochin, Colombo and Paramaribo. Similar incursions will come about for Elmina, Pernambuco, New Netherlands and Cape Town. The court records provide insights into the praxis of the regulation of mobility, and ground an important test of the norms provided by the plakaten, census and bylaws. 

This website uses cookies.  More information.