Schrieke, Bertram

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Schrieke, Bertram



When the Dutch anthropologist Bertram Johannes Otto Schrieke (1890-1945) was studying at the University of Leiden, where he finished his studies with a doctor’s degree in “languages and literature of the East Indian archipelago,” sociology as a discipline was in its infancy in the Netherlands. It was taught only at the University of Amsterdam, where Schrieke attended the lectures of S. R. Steinmetz—through whom he was influenced by the theories of Max Weber. At Leiden he was a pupil of Snouck Hurgronje, the eminent Islamologist and Arabist; of C. Van Vollenhoven, for adat law; and of other orientalists. His career was to be as diversified as his training.

Schrieke was not a theorist. Rather he took exception to existing theories as being too one-sided or too narrow. He held the view that “a culture forms an organic whole, which cannot be split up into different parts as if these components had no relation to each other,” an approach not generally shared in the 1920s (Indonesian Sociological Studies, vol. 1, p. 232).

As demonstrated by his lifelong work in the social and economic aspects of the history of Indonesia and of Indonesian foreign contacts, Schrieke’s forte lay in maintaining a critical attitude toward the generally accepted approaches to these subjects, which relied on archeology and colonial history.

In his doctoral thesis, Het boek van Bonang (1916), he analyzed the text of a manuscript, written in Javanese and ascribed to a legendary Muslim saint, which had been in the library of the University of Leiden since the beginning of the seventeenth century. His study of this manuscript, as well as of the early history of the Portuguese and Dutch trade contacts with Indonesia and of the published material on the voyages of Chinese and Arabs in the previous centuries, enabled him to revise the existing theory that the Islamization of the archipelago was the result of pënëtration pacifique. He came to the conclusion that Islamization, hitherto considered to be primarily the product of trade relations, had been equally influenced by political conflicts and military struggles. In this work he acknowledged his debt to his mentor, G. P. Rouffaer, honorary member of the Royal Institute for Philology, Geography, and Ethnology of the Netherlands Indies at The Hague, whose own work of collecting and comparing source material was an inspiration to Schrieke.

Returning later to this problem in parts of a wide-ranging study, “Ruler and Realm in Early Java” (published posthumously, in an English translation only; 1957), Schrieke suggested that it is “impossible to understand the spread of Islam in the archipelago unless one takes into account the antagonism between the Muslim traders and the Portuguese,” antagonism which caused the Indonesians to side with the Muslims.

During the 1920s, when Schrieke was acting as adviser on native and Arab affairs to the Netherlands Indies government, it was his intention to write a sociological study of the peoples of Sumatra based on these ideas. He had written only the first, historical section of the “Prolegomena” to this study (see 1925) when he was called upon to conduct an inquiry into the so-called communist uprisings on the west coast of Sumatra in 1926. In order to explain the success of the communists’ tactics, Schrieke incorporated in his report facts relating to the historical background and structure of Minangkabau society and dealt with the impact of the introduction of a money economy. He was thus able to point to the factors in this transitional period which had helped to foster the antigovernment attitude of the population. Here again his natural approach was to gather any relevant data, including the seemingly unimportant and the controversial. In 1955 the parts of his report that deal with the situation underlying the uprisings were published in an English translation, together with the above-mentioned “Prolegomena” and a number of his other publications (Indonesian Sociological Studies, vol. 1).

The Fourth Pacific Science Congress, convened at Batavia (now Jakarta) in 1929, afforded Schrieke the opportunity of editing a symposium entitled. The Effect of Western Influence on Native Civilisations in the Malay Archipelago, to which his own contribution was “Native Society in the Transformation Period."

As director of the Netherlands Indies Department of Education from 1929 to 1933, Schrieke stressed the need for a sociological approach to educational problems. He defended the existing diversified educational system, adapted as it was to serve the needs of a heterogeneous population.

He did further field research in applied sociology at the invitation of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which resulted in Alien Americans (1936). This was an “American Dilemma” avant la lettre: a one-man attempt to study the Negro problem in the United States and to interpret it against the background of other race relations there.

Apart from the influence he exerted in sociology and history when he was professor of sociology in the law school at Batavia, from 1924 to 1929, and later at the University of Amsterdam, from 1936 to 1945, Schrieke’s ideas can best be traced in the work of J. C. van Leur (1934) and M. A. P. Meilink-Roelofsz (1962). He fostered surveys of research on both Indonesia and the Netherlands Caribbean territories; he also encouraged such surveys in connection with the work of the International Refugee Colonization Society, established in 1938.

He also applied his organizational ability as museum director of the 150-year-old Batavian Society of Arts and Letters in 1923 and later, from 1938 to 1945, as director of the ethnological department of the Royal Colonial Institute (now Royal Tropical Institute), Amsterdam.

Schrieke died suddenly in London in September 1945 while attending a United Nations conference as a Netherlands government delegate on Indonesian affairs.

Johanna L. G. Felhoen Kraal

[See alsoAsian society, article on Southeast asia; Colonialism; Islam; and the biography of Snouck Hurgronje.]


1916 Het boek van Bonang. Utrecht: Boer.

1925 Prolegomena tot eene sociologische studie over de volken van Sumatra: Deel I (A. Historisch gedeelte), Schets van de politieke en economische machtsver-schuivingen in den Indischen Archipel in de 17de eeuw (Prolegomena to a Sociological Study of the Peoples of Sumatra: Part I [A. Historical Section], Outline of the Shifts in Political and Economic Power in the Indonesian Archipelago in the Seventeenth Century). Tijdscrift voor taal-, land- en volkenkunde 65:90-207. → For a partial translation, see pages 1-82 of Indonesian Sociological Studies: Selected Writings of B. Schrieke.

(1926) 1928 The Evolution of Culture in the Pacific in Relation to the Theories of the “Kultur-Historische” and the “Manchester” Schools of Social Anthropology. Volume 2, pages 2423-2441 in Pacific Science Congress, Third, Tokyo, Proceedings. Tokyo: National Research Council of Japan.

1929 Native Society in the Transformation Period. Pages 237-247 in Bertram Schrieke (editor), The Effect of Western Influence on Native Civilisations in the Malay Archipelago. Batavia (Java): Kolff.

1936 Alien Americans: A Study of Race Relations. New York: Viking.

1938 The Educational System in the Netherlands Indies. Netherlands Indies: Bulletin of the Colonial Institute, Amsterdam 2:14-24.

1948 SCHRIEKE, BERTRAM (editor) Report of the Scientific Work Done in the Netherlands on Behalf of the Dutch Overseas Territories During the Period Between Approximately 1918 and 1943. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing. → Published posthumously.

1957 Ruler and Realm in Early Java. Volume 2, pages 1-267 in Indonesian Sociological Studies: Selected Writings of B. Schrieke. The Hague: Van Hoeve. → Published posthumously from Schrieke’s Dutch manuscript.

Indonesian Sociological Studies: Selected Writings of B. Schrieke. 2 vols. The Hague: Van Hoeve, 1955-1957. → Contains parts of the 1925 Prolegomena to a Sociological Study of the Peoples of Sumatra, parts of the 1926 report on uprisings on the west coast of Sumatra, and a number of later writings, some previously unpublished.


Foreword by the Editors of “Selected Studies on Indonesia by Dutch Scholars.” 1957 Volume 2, pages v-vii in Bertram J. O. Schrieke, Indonesian Sociological Studies: Selected Writings of B. Schrieke. The Hague: Van Hoeve.

Leur, Jacob C. Van (1934) 1955 On Early Asian Trade. Pages 1-44 in Jacob C. van Leur, Indonesian Trade and Society: Essays in Asian Social and Economic History. The Hague: Van Hoeve.→First published in Dutch.

Lindgben, Ethel J. 1948 Bertram Johannes Otto Schrieke: 1890-1945. Man 48:113-117. → Includes a BIBLIOGRAPHY on pages 116-117, prepared by Lindgren and her associates.

Meilink-Roelofsz, MARIE A. P. 1962 Asian Trade and European Influence in the Indonesian Archipelago Between 1500 and About 1630. The Hague: Nijhoff.

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