Java War (1825–1830)

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Java War (1825–1830)

The struggle waged by Prince Diponegoro (1785–1855) of Yogyakarta, a city in central Java (now part of Indonesia), from 1825 to 1830 was one of the most important turning points in the political history of nineteenth-century Java, and of Javanese history as a whole. The Java War, also known as the Diponegoro War, determined the increasing glory of Java's colonial government and the inevitable retrenchment of local powers.

From the Javanese perspective, the Diponegoro War was the end of the Javanese effort to combat colonial intervention and restore the greatness of Java, a greatness tattered since the coming of the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC, or Dutch East India Company). Thereafter, the Javanese struggle was sporadically disconnected from the activities in its center of power.

The war can also be seen as the first major war against the Dutch involving Javanese leaders who were motivated by social and economic reasons, rather than the usual dynastic reasons that had caused earlier conflicts in Java. After the Diponegoro War, the kingdom and society of Java become a highly dependent subject of the colonial realm, not only politically, but also socially, economically, and culturally. The defeat of Diponegoro placed the Javanese solely and definitively under colonial control, forming one of the bases of the Pax Neerlandica. This situation placed the Dutch in a central position in determining everything that occurred in Java after 1830. It also gave them the opportunity to expand their colonial empire to other neglected islands.

The problems started when a long-standing conflict between the elites of the Yogyakarta sultanate of central Java became more heated as a transition of heir occurred during the British interregnum. The reappointed Sultan Hamengkubuwono II, after being forced to resign by the French-Dutch representative, enjoyed only one year of rule. The British then appointed a new sultan, Hamengkubuwono III, in 1812 and banished Hamengkubuwono II to the island of Penang, off the coast of the Malay Peninsula.

The British had earlier asked Diponegoro to accept the title of crown prince, but he declined. Hamengkubuwono III only reigned for two years before his untimely death. The British government then appointed Prince Jarot, or Raden Mas Sudama, the son of the official wife of Hamengkubuwono III, as Hamengkubuwono IV, sidestepping Diponegoro, who was the oldest son of Hamengkubuwono III from an unofficial wife. During this period, the sultan's mother, along with the chancellor (patih) Danureja IV, and a commander of the sultan's bodyguard, Wiranegara, formed a strong alliance within the palace. Diponegoro became the main critic of this clique.

The reign of Hamengkubuwono IV was also brief. The sultan died in December 1822, and Yogyakarta was handed back to Dutch control. In exchange, the Netherlands Indies government appointed Prince Menol, a three-year-old child, as Hamengkubuwono V. Diponegoro and three other distinguished personages were appointed members of the prince's guardianship. In reality, however, the tasks of the guardianship, with the exception of internal palace financial affairs, were taken over completely by Patih Danurejo. Danurejo worked closely with the colonial government and was hostile to Diponegoro. Diponegoro was left with a feeling of bitterness toward his many political opponents who had publicly humiliated him.

The situation became more complicated with the appearance of Dutch resident Smissaert, whose attitude offended the complicated Javanese rules of etiquette and customs. In routine meetings with the sultan inside the palace, for instance, Smissaert made it a habit to sit at the seat appointed specially for the sultan. The resident and his community and some sultanate elites also introduced Western ways into the palace, resulting in many changes in the daily lifestyle of the nobility. There were even reports of sex scandals between foreigners and the princesses inside the palace.

This situation was frowned upon by many kraton (palace) courtiers, who continued to uphold traditional Javanese values. Among them was Diponegoro, whose strict upbringing by his great grandmother, Kanjeng Ratu Ageng, had provided him with an image of how a good Javanese and good Muslim should behave.

The conflict among the elites resulted in political tensions that were difficult to control. Tension was heightened further as the Javanese people began to throw their support behind Diponegoro. The people's support of Diponegoro can be explained by analyzing several longstanding social and economic factors dating to the start of the nineteenth century. The leasing of appanage land owned by families of the sultan and the Javanese aristocracy to Europeans and Chinese started during the British period in 1814, and was continued by the Netherlands Indies government. The practice undermined the right of the Javanese community to work and live on the land. The opening of plantations on these leased lands caused the degradation of the people's status from farmers to laborers with meager incomes. In addition, many people were forced to move from their home villages.

At the same time, the introduction of a land-tax system by Stamford Raffles (1781–1826), along with the government's practice of administering tollgates by subcontracting through three to four Chinese tax-farmers, created more tension because the abuses of the traditional services system by local Javanese officials had continued. People were further impoverished by various kinds of indirect taxes that were monopolized by Chinese bandars. Goldsmiths, coppersmiths, copper workers, and even the owners of Javanese musical orchestras, for example, had to pay an annual tax to the bandar, or they were sent to jail. Although the Netherlands Indies government denied that their tax system impoverished the Javanese populace—they even claimed to have eliminated twenty-four of the thirty-four types of tax once levied by the Javanese kingdom—the people still considered many of the taxes to be a burden.

The deepening social and economic grievances of the early 1820s became even worse when a cholera epidemic and harvest failure occurred in many parts of Java. During this period, Java's traditional belief system lent strong support to Diponegoro. People saw Diponegoro as the reincarnation of the mythical ratu adil, the "just king" in Javanese millenarian tradition. The ratu adil was expected to free people from their sufferings and bring back the glorious past. In the eyes of the Javanese people, Diponegoro not only brought hope to nativist Javanese, but he also represented the idea of perang sabil, or holy war within an Islamic frame.

Beginning in 1825, the policies of the colonial and sultanate elite did increasing damage to Diponegoro. For example, the government placed poles to designate the location of a planned new road that passed directly through Diponegoro's property without his permission. The event resulted in a spontaneous mobilization of people to defend Diponegoro's rights in mid-July 1825.

Diponegoro was further disappointed when, in early 1825, Patih Danurejo, acting as caretaker of the sultan, signed a thirty-year agreement with the colonial government to lease lands in the areas of Jabarangkah and Karangkobar without the consent of the guardianship board. After Diponegoro refused to meet with the representative of Resident Smissaert, the resident sent an order/invitation to meet with him on July 20, 1825. A day later, Smissaert sent an army of fifty men and two cannons to capture Diponegoro. Tegalrejo was destroyed, and Diponegoro retreated to the south, through Selarong, which then became the center of the struggle and the place where Diponegoro declared himself erucakra, another name for ratu adil, the just king.

Battles between the Dutch army, supported by local rulers, against the supporters of Diponegoro took place over a wide area that extended beyond the borders of Yogyakarta, especially in the areas around the Menoreh Mountains, Kedu, Bagelen, and Banyumas. The war also spread to the northern coastal areas of Java, such as Rembang, Lasem, Tuban, and Bojonegoro, and far to the east, crossing Surakarta as far as Madiun. Many areas in the Surakarta sultanate became battlegrounds for the war, as many local people and elites chose to support Diponegoro.

The widespread support of the Javanese people for Diponegoro cannot be underestimated. Although the Islamic groups became his main supporters, the largest war in Java's history also involved many other groups, from farmers to noblemen, from clergy to bandits. Furthermore, the soldiers called to the field of battles did not consist of men only; many of Diponegoro's troops were women, and it is known that at least one of his daughters became a commandant.

The war in Java prevented the Dutch from continuing their political and military expansion elsewhere in the archipelago, especially in islands outside Java. The Dutch tried various strategies, from battle to negotiation, but they failed to stop the struggle. A new approach known as the Bentengstelsel was then implemented to corner Diponegoro. Prior to that, however, the Dutch offered Diponegoro the status of prince, similar to the position of princely king (pangeran adipati) held by Mangkunegoro and Pakualam, if he would agree to stop the struggle.

By mid-1829, all of Diponegoro's most important supporters—Dullah Haji Abdulkadir, Pangeran Bei, Pangeran Joyokusumi, Pangeran Adikusumo, and Raden Basah Prawirodirjo—had either been killed or captured or had surrendered. Diponegoro decided to stop the war in February 1830, and he commenced with negotiation. Diponegoro was invited to the Dutch resident's house in Magelang on March 8, 1830. He was captured on March 28 during the negotiations, and was exiled to Manado, North Sulawesi. Diponegoro was later transferred to Makassar, South Sulawesi, where he remained until his death on January 8, 1855. During his years of exile, Diponegoro produced many works of literature on Java and Islam.

The Java War caused the deaths of more than 200,000 Javanese. The Dutch lost more than 8,000 European soldiers and 7,000 local soldiers, and not less than twenty million guilders were spent to finance the five-year war.

see also Java, Cultivation System.


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