Great Java War

To exploit the natural resources of Indonesia, the Netherlands built roads to haul cash crops from rural areas to coastal ports. After plans were made for a road to cross over the sacred property of a sultan’s son, the son mobilized a guerrilla force to drive the Dutch from central Java. His effort was crushed, however, after a five-year struggle. The conflict would be the last major Javanese resistance to the Dutch during the nineteenth century.

Summary of Event

During the sixteenth century, the Dutch began establishing colonies around the world to control the lucrative trade in valuable commodities. Dutch traders set up headquarters on the island of Java in the Indonesian archipelago, then known as the Dutch East Indies and part of the largest possession for the Dutch. The Javanese people had developed a complex, hierarchical civilization that included sultans in charge of courtly arts, Islamic Islam;in Java[Java] spiritual leaders, and aristocrats who held political power. Accordingly, some Javanese resented the intrusion of the Dutch, who, in turn, sought to subdue the local population by supporting local leaders, by establishing Dutch colonial administrators in key governmental positions, and by employing military force against uprisings. Great Java War (1825-1830)
Indonesia;Great Java War
Netherlands;and Indonesia[Indonesia]
Dipo Negoro, Pangeran
[kw]Great Java War (1825-1830)
[kw]Java War, Great (1825-1830)
[kw]War, Great Java (1825-1830)
Great Java War (1825-1830)
Indonesia;Great Java War
Netherlands;and Indonesia[Indonesia]
Dipo Negoro, Pangeran
[g]Southeast Asia;1825-1830: Great Java War[1320]
[g]Indonesia;1825-1830: Great Java War[1320]
[g]Netherlands;1825-1830: Great Java War[1320]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1825-1830: Great Java War[1320]
[c]Colonization;1825-1830: Great Java War[1320]
[c]Indigenous people’s rights;1825-1830: Great Java War[1320]
du Bus de Gisignies, Léonard
Kock, Hendrik Merkus de
Capellen, Godert Alexander Gerard Philip van der

The Dutch divided Java into a number of residencies headed by a Dutch administrator. Each residency was subdivided into a number of regencies, which were formally headed by a Javanese regent assisted by a Dutch official. Regencies, which were subdivided into districts and subdistricts, included several hundred villages. The regents cooperated with the Dutch because they could skim profits from cash crops (cinnamon, coffee, cotton, indigo, pepper, rice, silk, sugar, tea, and tobacco), which were harvested by plantation workers; in turn, the regents continued to tax their subjects for rice and for labor.

Meanwhile, Chinese workers were being imported as higher-level bureaucrats, professionals, and plantation managers, and cooperative Javanese aristocrats and former government officials were being demoted to midlevel bureaucrats. Furthermore, the Dutch employed loyal Javanese and Christians from elsewhere in the archipelago to maintain colonial order. The rest of the population consisted of disaffected aristocrats, small-scale landowners, spiritual leaders, petty traders, and peasants. Surakarta and Yogyakarta remained independent states outside the Dutch colonial system.

When the French armies under Napoleon I conquered the Netherlands in 1795, the Dutch king asked the British to assume temporary control of its East Indies Dutch East Indies;and Great Britain[Great Britain]
Great Britain;and Dutch East Indies[Dutch East Indies] colony. The British, however, who occupied a portion of Yogyakarta in 1812, tried to disrupt the regency system and to abolish the court system that separated indigenous peoples from foreigners. The British had no interest in the cash-crop export economy, and they paid for the administration of the colony by a system of taxation. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814, the Netherlands resumed control of the archipelago, but the local population was not entirely happy to see the Dutch return. Members of the local elite were in debt when the Dutch resumed demands for tax revenues, and the Dutch reinstituted the regency system, the cash-crop economy, and segregated courts.

In 1825, the Netherlands appointed Léonard du Bus de Gisignies du Bus de Gisignies, Léonard the commissioner general of the Dutch East Indies, with a mandate to reduce the deficit in expenses of the East Indies colonial administration. When he arrived, there were numerous grievances because of the policies of his predecessor, Godert Alexander Gerard Philip van der Capellen Capellen, Godert Alexander Gerard Philip van der . In 1824, van der Capellen had abolished the contracts of land tenancy, which gave tenants not only the use of the land but also control over farmers on the land, which left the economic system in chaos. Tolls were newly being levied for movement across the border between government and indigenous land.

In 1825, the Dutch planned to build a road across a piece of property that contained a sacred tomb. The road would have been an unwelcome intrusion, according to the owner of the property, Yogyakarta’s prince Pangeran Dipo Negoro, whom the Dutch had passed over when they appointed Hamengkubuwana Hamengkubuwana the new sultan of Yogyakarta in 1822. Accordingly, Dipo Negoro recruited his friend Mangkubumi to organize a guerrilla force of approximately 100,000 soldiers to keep the Dutch out of the Javanese heartland. Dipo Negoro’s success in raising the army came out of his broad appeal to all classes of Javanese. He and Mangkubumi had been appointed coguardians of the sultan, who was only seven years old in 1825.

As a member of the upper aristocracy, Dipo Negoro could successfully argue that the Dutch were reducing traditional rulers to mere cogs in the wheels of the colonial administration. His appeal to commoners was based on his childhood experience of living in a rural village with his grandmother. The religious leaders accepted his authority because he was well versed in Islamic Islam;in Java[Java] teachings and also claimed to have experienced a mystical vision in which the goddess of the southern ocean promised that he would become a future king. In a sense, the war was a jihad against the Dutch, and Dipo Negoro was considered to be a messiah.

One day in 1825, Dipo Negoro’s guerrilla force appeared in Jogyakarta while the Dutch army was out of town. Gaining widespread support from the indigenous population, the rebels massacred Europeans and Chinese plantation farmers. The Dutch carried the young sultan away to safety during the disorder. General Henrik Merkus de Kock was then ordered to central Java but had too few troops to stop the insurrection, though he persuaded the ruler of Surakarta to refrain from joining the insurgency.

With muskets and other instruments of warfare from corrupt Dutch officials, from British and American gun-runners, and from local arms manufacturers, the Javanese guerrillas were at first victorious in attacking the Dutch in the jungles, because the conventional forces of the Dutch were large and immobile. De Kock Kock, Hendrik Merkus de crushed the insurgency by using the fortress system, in which small units of mobile troops were posted in various forts for hit-and-run raids.

In 1829, Mangkubumi deserted to the Dutch, and in 1830 Dipo Negoro sued for peace. Dipo Negoro offered to end the insurgency if the Dutch would name him sultan, but, instead, Dipo Negoro was arrested, thus depriving the insurgency of an indispensable leader. He was first exiled to Manado in northern Sulawesi and then to Makasar (now Ujung Pandang), where he died. In all, the Dutch employed 50,000 troops but suffered only 1,000 deaths. When the war ended, more than 15,000 Javanese soldiers and 200,000 Javanese civilians (7 percent of the population) lost their lives, mostly from famine Famines;Southeast Asian
Diseases;tropical and disease.


Victory for the Dutch in the Great Java War led to the opening up of new land for commercial exploitation, which substantially reduced the domains of Yogyakarta and Surakarta. The sultans, though, were compensated for their losses. The next governor-general took note of the grievances and implemented new policies that shared more of the profits with the indigenous elite, thereby increasing contentment within the aristocracy, enriching European officials and Chinese middlemen, and increasing productivity, such that the Netherlands enjoyed larger profits.

Javanese plantation workers, however, were exploited even more than in the past, and they were so overworked that they had neither energy nor time to grow their own food, thereby ushering in an era of epidemics and famine Famines;Southeast Asian . The discontent of the masses resulted ultimately in an anticolonial movement that gained momentum during the twentieth century.

Dipo Negoro’s resistance in the first half of the nineteenth century was glorified and he became celebrated as the first anticolonial, nationalistic hero of the later struggle for independence. Indonesia became independent in 1948.

Further Reading

  • Eng, Pierre van der. The “Colonial Drain” from Indonesia, 1823-1890. Canberra: Economics Division, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1993. An economic analysis of the Dutch exploitation of Indonesia’s resources, proving that the colony operated at a net loss for the colonial power.
  • Hall, D. G. E. A History of South-East Asia. 4th ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. Chapter 30 provides a brief account of the causes and conduct of the Great Java War.
  • Ricklefs, M. C. A History of Modern Indonesia Since c. 1200. 3d ed. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2001. The most authoritative historical account of Indonesia, covering the Srivijaya Empire to the end of the twentieth century.
  • Van Der Kroef, Justus M. “Prince Diponegoro: Progenitor of Indonesian Nationalism.” Far Eastern Quarterly 8 (August, 1949): 424-450. A biography of the charismatic Indonesian who organized, led, and then surrendered in the Great Java War.

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