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The emergence of technological development and The question of native identity in the Netherlands East Indies.

In 1905, the colonial government in the Netherlands East Indies launched a Department of Agriculture, whose primary mission was to improve the welfare of the indigenous people by promoting a process of what many officials in the colony were starting to call 'development'. (1) Technical experts with the Department expected to change indigenous agriculture on Java, and eventually the rest of the East Indies, by bringing up-to-date scientific knowledge about better seeds, fertilizers and cultivation tools to farmers. They confidently predicted that such technological changes would produce development by increasing prosperity in indigenous communities. Endorsing this technically-oriented mission, A. W. F. Idenburg, then Minister of the Colonies, called agriculture 'the single axis around which all prosperity, progress, and development turns'. (2)

Idenburg's seamless link between prosperity, development and directed technical change marked the growing political significance of both technology and the idea of development in the colonial state of the early twentieth century. Development, however, was not intended for all impoverished people; it was specifically defined as a project to help 'Natives', a legally defined category in the Indies. (3) Poor Chinese, or poor Europeans, received no attention from development planners. Development therefore was about more than uplift, it was also intertwined with the question of identity in the colony. As development became technological, technology became a critical site for interpreting Native identity, and for contesting the role of Natives in colonial society. This article explores the politics of development, technology and identity in the Netherlands East Indies by examining how ideas of development emerged from earlier politics of societal improvement in the colony, and investigating the implications of development's technological turn in the early twentieth century.

The idea that technological change is a necessary component of development is common today, thus making it is easy to forget that it is an idea with a history. Raymond Williams explores the term 'development' in his book Keywords, showing how in the nineteenth century its biological meanings came to be extended to economic and industrial systems. (4) Scholars argued that economies (and societies) like biological entities would go through predictable stages of growth, an assumption that characterized socioeconomic change as both linear and subject to a standard of normalcy defined largely by the histories of a few European nations (predominantly Great Britain). (5) Williams urges historical attention to such extensions in meaning, and argues that changes to vocabulary and meaning reflect and constitute changing interpretations of the world. When adopting the vocabulary of development to analyse and capture colonial social problems in the early twentieth century, policymakers in the Indies both defined distinctions between Europeans and Natives, an exercise in identity politics, and implicitly suggested that solving colonial troubles meant changing the attitudes, behaviours and technical practices of Natives, which in the context of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries primarily meant the Javanese people, who were the targets of most early development planning.

Just what was to be changed, however, was the central point of contention that plagued development work in the Netherlands East Indies. Michael Adas has shown how Europeans in colonial settings interpreted technical differences as evidence of the superiority of Western over indigenous culture, and justified projects in technological change based on the notion that indigenous people needed help to change to more 'civilized' ways. (6) It is tempting therefore to interpret technological development as an exercise in Europeanization. Yet we must be cautious before making this assumption. In the Indies, critics and policymakers agreed that Natives needed development, but did not agree that they should become more like Europeans. Both those who hoped that Natives would adopt more European ways, and those who hoped they would remain in a definably Native sphere, embraced technological means to bring their visions of a colonial social order to life, and defined their projects as 'development'. To understand the technological turn in development, and its political significance, we must go beyond assumptions about Europeanization and explore the role of identity in the emergence of development thinking in the East Indies.

'Promoting improvement and advantage'

In the early nineteenth century policies aimed at the 'improvement' of indigenous society in the East Indies appeared in the context of larger discussions about the wisdom of free trade for the colony. Thomas Stamford Raffles, who served as Governor of the East Indies during the British interregnum (1811-16), linked the project of introducing free trade (in contrast to the practices of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VOC), to the establishment of greater territorial control. (7) Raffles emphasized that free trade was more just and profitable than the monopolistic practices of the VOC:
   the commercial policy adopted by the Dutch ... was not only contrary
   to all principles of natural justice, and unworthy of any
   enlightened and civilized nation, but characterized by a degree of
   absurdity, for which it is scarcely worth taking the trouble of
   being so preposterously wicked. (8)


In Raffles' view, just as oppression and injustice had flowed from the practices of the VOC, gratitude and plenty would flow from the British introduction of free trade. What is notable about Raffles' defence of free trade is his contention that it served not only British interests, but the interests of the indigenous people as well. He argued that they had been deprived of the 'natural advantages' of their land, and that the character of the Malays had deteriorated under the Dutch due to the lack of a uniformly applied system of law. For Raffles, the 'natural justice' of free trade would ensure that British merchants and the indigenous people alike benefited from the colonial enterprise, producing a cooperative spirit in society rather than the strife that stemmed from oppression. Not only would free trade be more just in Raffles' view, it was absolutely essential for the long-term profitability (and therefore viability) of the colony.

Raffles predicted that an increase in prosperity would spring from free trade, and fair, uniformly enforced laws, which he aimed to achieve with an ambitious set of reforms that included eliminating the 'tyranny' of the Native regents by doing business directly with elected village headmen and instituting cash payments of taxes (rather than tax in kind) to encourage trade. (9) For the purposes of this essay, it is important to highlight Raffles' implicit assumption that the improvements he advocated were universally applicable: he never argued that any special character of the indigenous people (or groups of indigenous people) might prevent them from prospering under his new policies. Ideologically speaking, free trade and the rule of law were universal goods, of benefit to all to whom they were available. Whether they were applied in Europe or in the Indies, the outcome should be the same. While Raffles did refer to the 'deterioration of the Malay character' under the Dutch, he made clear that this problem stemmed from the policies of the Dutch and Malay leaders, not from any intrinsic failings in the indigenous people themselves. Reforming such policies would produce all the change that was needed.

While Dutch officials who returned to the Indies in 1819 agreed with Raffles' view that the good of the indigenous people was important to the successful operation of the colony, they did not necessarily share his confidence in the benefits of free trade. (10) The first Dutch Governor-General of the Indies after the exit of the British, G. A. G. P. van der Capellen, believed that well-heeled European capitalists could too easily take advantage of indebted peasant producers, eventually forcing them off their land. The newly landless, he argued, would turn to lives of crime, decreasing the security of the countryside and ultimately harming trade. (11) The good of the people in his view required that trade be tightly regulated, and the people protected from the abuses invited by disparities in wealth. Advocates of free trade did not dispute that the indigenous people might suffer; they argued that the root cause lay not in free trade, but in the character of the Javanese people. L. P. J. du Bus de Gisignies, a commissioner appointed by King William in 1826, favoured this view. Du Bus, a former member of the Dutch Lower House (the Tweede Kamer), as well as former Governor of both South Brabant and Antwerp, was an advocate of Liberal views, and King William had instructed him to look into financial problems in the colony. In making his case for expansion of free European plantation production, Du Bus argued that the Javanese were both weak and lazy and therefore could not compete with the more energetic Europeans. He believed that the Javanese needed the example of European business to help them to change this cultural flaw. (12) Shaken out of their indolent ways, they would be more productive, benefiting themselves and the state.

Du Bus shifted the analysis from the consequences of free trade to the character of the indigenous people, a move which brought European and Javanese identity squarely into the issue of promoting the good of these people. The contrast with Van der Capellen or Raffles is significant since they both assumed that changes to top-down policies alone would produce a positive outcome. In contrast, Du Bus argued that the indigenous people themselves needed to change their attitudes in order to ensure their own well-being. Specifically, they needed to learn to act more like energetic Europeans.

'Native society dressed up in native clothes': Native prosperity under the Cultivation System

J. van den Bosch, newly appointed Governor-General of the East Indies in 1828, resolved the debates over the advantages and disadvantages of free trade with a bold new plan. He had a military background in the Indies, and had spent many years studying, and publishing on, the problems of politics and economics in the Indies. In his critique of past practices, he took on both capitalists for being ineffectual in their exploitation of Java and Javanese for being ignorant and lazy:
   to apply to an ignorant and idle people the Liberal institutions
   of an enlightened age is as impossible as to introduce religious
   toleration among blind fanatics. First one must try to enlighten
   their understanding, and then to improve their institutions. (13)


Despite his calls for enlightenment, Van den Bosch made no efforts to change the Javanese character or their ways of thinking. His solution, the so-called Cultivation System, would simply attempt to benefit from traditional rural social and labour relations. Under the Cultivation System the reins of production and trade stayed in the hands of the state. (14) It called for revenue collection in kind, rather than cash. Villages would use 40 per cent of their land to produce crops suitable for export--usually coffee, sugar and indigo. They would remit these crops to the government, who would sell them at auction and return the proceeds to the state (the Netherlands) treasury, making the Indies what J. S. Baud, Van den Bosch's successor, famously called 'the cork on which the Netherlands floats'. (15) The Cultivation System, even though unevenly implemented and never operated to the complete exclusion of private planters, became the main tool to achieve better exploitation of the colony for the government and, as Van den Bosch argued, to improve indigenous life by bringing peace and quiet to the countryside. (16)

Van den Bosch thus had a considerably different take on the problems of the indigenous people than his predecessors. He identified the main problem of colonial society not specifically as prosperity but as crime and increasing social disorder in the countryside. What has since been termed the Java War, a rebellion in East and Central Java led by the charismatic Prince Diponegoro, had troubled and threatened colonial authority since 1825. Van den Bosch argued that a vacuum of authority in rural Java was the real problem behind the war, caused by the inability of Dutch leaders to establish a harmonious ruling relationship with the indigenous people:
   The payment of taxes, the obligation of compulsory labour, the surly
   conduct of many inferior public officials towards the native, are so
   many reasons which continually oppose a warm, mutual union between
   us and the people.... [O]ne shall easily recognize, that it is for
   us impossible to be in tune with the national spirit or to persuade
   the people that through our presence their interests will be
   advanced. (17)


Van den Bosch tackled this problem by restoring the rights and privileges of the indigenous regents and positioning the Dutch at the top of the ruling hierarchy, using the regents as intermediaries with indigenous society. His plan was meant to restore a traditional way of life, countering the negative effects of European influence in village society by seemingly removing European authority. This would create an indigenous sphere of colonial life in which questions of prosperity and harmony were dealt with through traditional institutions and social relationships.

Of course, the project of establishing 'traditional native authority' needs to be understood not as restoration, but as a colonial construction. The 'tradition' of Javanese community life and rule had been so deeply affected by the reality of cross-cultural contact that the 'tradition' Van den Bosch envisioned was more truly a hybrid that drew on Javanese and Dutch ways, as J. S. Furnivall observed in his classic study Netherlands India:
   Although Van den Bosch dressed up native society in native clothes,
   it was a fancy dress, a masquerade of native institutions.... [I]t
   was not from the consent of the people but from the authority of
   Government that they [village headmen and regents] derived their
   power. (18)


Furnivall probably overestimated the extent that Javanese kingship had ever in any useful sense rested on people's sovereignty. (19) Even so, his primary point--that the fundamental character of authority had changed--remains sound. Indigenous leaders could not maintain their authority without the backbone of Dutch support, making their position only superficially similar to pre-colonial traditions.

Like Du Bus de Gisignies before him, Van den Bosch used identity politics to defend his reforms. Constructing a definition of the good of the indigenous people based on 'Native tradition' required colonial administrators to construct a concept of a unique Native identity, one that was distinct from European or Chinese identity. Doing so tended to mask the complex social reality of life in the colony, just as the legal distinctions between 'European', 'Chinese' and 'Native' did. (20) In all except the most remote villages, life in the Indies was a mix of ideas and cultures, and very little like the fiction of three distinguishable cultural groups. Yet Van den Bosch's policies were based on that fiction, and worked to make it into a reality. He defined separate spheres for Europeans and Natives in colonial life and soundly rejected the idea that the latter would benefit from acting more like the former. As Van den Bosch 'dressed up Natives in native clothes', he bound his interpretation of what was good for indigenous society to the distance and differences maintained between Europeans and Natives.

The return of the Liberals: Reactions to the Cultivation System

The Cultivation System came under strong criticism both within the colony and in the Netherlands by the 1840s despite its considerable contributions to the Dutch treasury. In some areas production had stagnated, and local variations in implementation meant that production was often inefficient and unpredictable. Other critics cited its failures with respect to Native prosperity, and indeed it was during the late 1840s--and increasingly in the 1850s and later--that authors started to prominently refer to the problem of Native 'welvaart', meaning prosperity or sometimes welfare. (21) Edward Douwes Dekker, writing under the pseudonym Multatuli, created a sensation in 1859 with his book Max Havelaar, in which he excoriated the Cultivation System for encouraging indigenous leaders to oppress peasants, and for the famines caused by greedy officials taking too much land out of food production, as had happened in Ceribon in 1843. (22) Liberal critics, who wanted to reopen the Indies for private exploitation, targeted the Cultivation System mercilessly. After much debate, Liberal reformers in the Dutch government began to succeed in their efforts to dismantle the Cultivation System in the Indies, and move to one focused on free (or at least freer) enterprise based on export production. (23) The transition from the Cultivation System to private exploitation of Java was gradual, as the government retained control over some crops like cinchona, but relinquished others--most notably sugar, as established in the Sugar Law of 1878. (24)

Given Dekker's critiques, it is not surprising that Liberal reformers with a humanist bent, like W. R. van Hoevell, pressed an interpretation of Liberal reform that emphasized its benefits for Native prosperity. (25) Van Hoevell had been a Christian minister and activist in the Indies and, on entering the Dutch Parliament after his return to the Netherlands, immediately became the leader of the colonial opposition. While his Liberal opposition made the case that opening the colony to free trade would benefit the Netherlands, it also raised the question of fairness by pointing to the problems the Javanese experienced under the Cultivation System. The opposition portrayed the Javanese as economic victims of the social organization of production, pointing out that communal tenure gave farmers little incentive to improve their land and technical practices. (26) These arguments tended to sideline, if not eliminate completely, the issue of Javanese character. Van Hoevell and others revived the argument familiar from Raffles that given the correct economic stimuli of control over their land and labour, Javanese farmers would react like other people around the world and produce a jump in their own prosperity. (27)

Conservatives quickly countered by arguing that disparities in wealth gave foreign capitalists ample opportunity to take advantage of impoverished farmers, who were both underfinanced and unfamiliar with the workings of a free trade economy. (28) As a compromise, lawmakers agreed to institute some protection of the indigenous peoples. The Agrarian Law of 1870 guaranteed that people in possession of land would maintain their traditional rights to that land, and a further ordinance in 1875 made it impossible for Native lands to be alienated to non-Natives (such as Europeans or Chinese). These laws satisfied Conservatives, since they protected indigenous people from capitalists, yet also satisfied Liberals since peasants would have the incentive of their own profits to work towards an improved economic position in society. (29)

An important point of agreement among all policymakers in this period was that the indigenous people needed to learn and change in order to live prosperously in colonial society. While not necessarily accepting an argument about cultural flaws in the Javanese (opinions about this were mixed), policymakers on both sides began to treat the indigenous people as students who had to learn to respond properly to capitalist society. Because this would not happen immediately, indigenous people required some protection from the full onslaught of capitalist competition as they made their social and psychological transition, Policymakers started to discuss improved Native welfare as the outcome of a long-term process of change among the indigenous people themselves, rather than as a relatively fast and predictable response to social policies.

Development and the Ethical policies

Nineteenth-century debates about policies intended to improve the lives of indigenous people never reached a consensus about whether economic policies had universal implications and would therefore produce the same results among the Javanese that policymakers would have expected among Europeans, or whether economic policies had to be framed to suit or change particularities of Javanese culture in order to be effective. Advocates calling for the development of the indigenous people in the early twentieth century increasingly leaned towards the latter interpretation, moving away from the universalism that had been more common among the Liberal reformers of the 1870s. Critics began arguing as early as the 1890s that Liberal reforms had failed to produce the predicted improvements in Native standards of living. One influential colonial critic, C. T. van Deventer, argued that the problem came not from the Liberal reforms themselves but from the system of colonial revenue management in which all state revenues went back to the Netherlands, from where the Minister of Colonies reapportioned them parsimoniously to the Indies. As a result the colonial government had been forced to raise the indigenous people's taxes, making it harder for them to prosper. (30)

Critics from the increasingly influential Socialist Party in the Netherlands argued more strenuously against Liberal reforms, because such reforms always put the capitalist exploitation of the colony ahead of the welfare of the indigenous people. Henri Hubert van Kol, a prominent Socialist member of the Dutch Parliament, argued in the Lower House that the moral requirement of the government was first to care for the needs of the indigenous people, and only secondly to promote capitalist exploitation. (31) Pieter Brooshooft, a journalist and one-time editor of De Locomotief, a Semarang newspaper, agreed. In the pamphlet The ethical course in colonial policy, from which the Ethical movement would get its name, Brooshooft wrote that putting the interests of the Javanese at the centre of colonial policy was a moral obligation:
   What should motivate us to carry out our obligations in the Indies
   is the best of human inclinations: the feeling for justice, the
   feeling that we should give the best we have got to the Javanese,
   who have been subjugated by us against their will, the noble-minded
   impulse of the stronger one to treat the weaker one justly. (32)


The Socialist criticisms of the Liberal system certainly drew to some extent on universalizing explanations from Marxism to explain the reasons for indigenous poverty. Brooshooft argued that Natives had rarely enjoyed most of the profits from their soil, owing the better part to the government--either indigenous or Dutch. He recommended that the colony return to state production, but this time with a guarantee that the welfare of the indigenous people set the standards of operation, not the fiscal needs of the Dutch government. Barring such reforms, Brooshooft feared, the outlook for the masses of the Indies was no different than that of the labouring masses elsewhere in the world:
   My conclusion is that our policy with respect to Native agriculture
   pushes the villagers slowly but surely into the same swamp of moral
   and physical misery into which the disinherited masses of Western
   society have sunk. (33)


Yet Brooshooft had also imbibed the critique of Javanese culture so familiar in colonial society. He blamed Javanese problems not only on capitalist exploitation, but on the 'primitive and childlike love of pleasure' of the Javanese, which led them to overspend their meagre resources on celebrations rather than saving for hard times. (34) Later, when arguing that labour practices of the sugar factories brought about the 'psychological destruction of simple villagers', he implied that Javanese were at best a gullible people who required protection from both capitalists and themselves. (35)

While disagreeing on many issues, a shared belief that flawed Javanese culture contributed to the low levels of Native prosperity gave Liberal and Socialist reformers common ground in the early years of Ethical reform. The high-minded idealism of Ethical reformers, when translated to economic benefits, easily incorporated the simpler goals of some Dutch industrialists, who hoped that a wealthier population in the Indies would import more finished goods. (36) Development would address economic problems through a process of cultural and technical change that would allow the Javanese finally to prosper. Changing external stimuli alone, such as colonial policies, would not do. To achieve development, the Governors-General and Ministers of the Colonies during the first decade of the twentieth century considered social and economic policies unprecedented in the scope of their intervention into the lives of the indigenous people. No longer limited to changes in the legal and tax systems as earlier policies had been, development projects in areas such as education and agriculture asked individuals to participate in a process of cultural and economic self-reform that would deeply affect their day-to-day lives.

The technological turn in development

Queen Wilhelmina placed her seal of approval on Ethical welfare planning in a royal address in 1901 when she called the declining welfare of the Native peoples her 'particular concern' and ordered an investigation into its causes. (37) From the beginning, the most 'Ethical' of the Ministers of the Colony, A.W.F. Idenburg and D. Fock, promoted change by creating programmes for the Javanese to improve themselves, correct the 'flaws' in their culture and progress towards self-rewarding participation in colonial society. Along with reforms in the social and political arena, including increased access to Western-style education and loosened restrictions on the press and political organizations, the Ethical policies aimed to produce economic improvement. While the social and political reforms have received much historical attention due to their influence on the burgeoning nationalist movement, historical actors at the time were as concerned, or even more so, with economic development. One colonial critic, J. E. Stokvis, made this point in 1918 when he asked what good it would do to bring about the spiritual and intellectual development of the Natives if they were still economically backward. (38)

While concern with economic change for the indigenous people was not original in the early twentieth century, reformers now gave technological projects a more prominent role than before. The link between technology and economics is visible in the slogan of the Ethical movement: 'irrigation, education, and emigration'. Policymakers advocated irrigation projects to increase peasant rice yields, thereby improving their income. (39) Education programmes included agricultural schools, as well as some training for technical vocations. Emigration projects, which would send Javanese to the less crowded 'outer possessions', were intended to spread not only the Javanese population but also the practices of wet-rice agriculture to the rest of the archipelago, with the government providing tools and irrigation works to make this possible. Advocates of a Department of Agriculture emphasized its mission to improve Native welfare in their successful effort to create a new bureaucratic home for agricultural research. If policymakers like Idenburg and Fock did not always define development as purely technological, technology did become a significant component of the effort.

Why did technological projects come to play this prominent role in welfare reform? While the Indies European civil service had certainly undertaken such projects in the nineteenth century, often to introduce agricultural practices like row planting, their efforts were regional and driven more often by the enthusiasm of individual bureaucrats than by any directives from the central government. (40) Advocates of a more intensive and centralized effort to produce technological change in the colony cited Dutch successes in agriculture as the justification for pursuing the same ends in Java. (41) Interestingly, the idea that Native and European technology were at very different levels was one that would have been hard to sustain only 30 years earlier. It was not until the mid- to late nineteenth century that the widespread use of fertilizers had produced dramatic yield increases in Dutch agriculture, and indeed it is likely that Balinese rice agriculture had long provided much higher yields per hectare than was typical in Netherlands grain production before this time. (42) In the colony itself, sugar producers had only started introducing advanced milling technology and irrigation practices in the late nineteenth century. Before that time there was little difference between their methods of production and those practised by Chinese or indigenous producers elsewhere in Southeast Asia. (43) Yet as technological change had produced substantial economic gains--the sugar industry being the most telling example on Java--it became a mark of the achievements of Western culture for many Europeans. Colonial reformers began to see Native traditions as signs of economic stagnation, and forced technological change as a way to help Natives adjust to the modern age. (44)

Advocates for technological change defended their programmes as ways of correcting flaws in the cultural character of the Javanese. Melchior Treub, a renowned scientist and respected head of the Indies' world-famous Botanical Gardens, cited lack of innovation as the defining problem in Javanese culture that the technical assistance of his proposed Department of Agriculture could fix. He argued that the Javanese had never innovated as Europeans had because conditions on lava were so easy and a comfortable subsistence had always been within reach. (45) Rapid population growth, however, had changed the picture. The Dutch needed to provide both better technology and the skills to innovate if the Javanese were to produce enough food to prevent widespread hunger. Higher-ranking policymakers, like Governor-General W. Rooseboom, also cited this lack of innovative drive as the problem in Javanese society that caused its backwardness, thus warranting correction. (46) That they required some kind of intervention to do so was stressed by D. Fock in a speech to the Lower House:
   Not easily will the Native of his own accord change to a new
   planting method for instance; not easily will Native people
   introduce on their own improvements in agriculture; from the
   initiative of the people in this field, little is to be
   expected. (47)


Not everyone who believed Javanese culture to be flawed advocated technological improvement. Brooshooft, for example, emphasized measures to reduce the head tax as the surest way to improve Native welfare. (48) Technological projects seemed more palatable for fiscal reasons, though, because they held out the hope of raising money through taxes. (49) Rather than reduce state revenue (and by implication, be forced to recoup the difference from European-owned businesses that might look less favourably on Java as a result), advocates believed that technologies like improved tools, higher yielding seeds and fertilizers promised to make it more possible for the Javanese to pay their taxes by increasing their yields. For Governor-General Rooseboom, who worried about population growth and concomitant land and food scarcity, efforts to improve agricultural technology and practices could produce revenues, welfare and food, something fiscal measures alone could never do. (50) The technological approach, and the assumptions of Native backwardness that underpinned it, proved almost unanimously popular among policymakers. During the Tweede Kamer's debates about creating a Department of Agriculture in 1904, all of the members agreed that scientific and technological guidance was essential for Native welfare, even if they did not agree on exactly how to go about providing it. (51)

For convenience, I have distinguished between technological development and the other, more purely social or political reforms of the Ethical policies. It is important to understand, however, that technological development was also social and political, because technology projects imagined not just new tools or techniques for production, but specific roles for the indigenous people in the colony. The kind of technological behaviours advocated by development projects revealed political choices (and disagreements) about the place of the indigenous people in the productive life of the colony. Should welfare projects imagine Natives becoming more like Europeans in their attitudes and practices, or was it better for them, and the colony, if they remained in a Native sphere, albeit a more prosperous version than the existing one? This question underpinned disputes over the direction of technological development projects because colonial officials themselves never agreed on the answer.

When Melchior Treub took leadership of the new Department of Agriculture in 1905, he took a socially conservative approach, favouring technologies that maintained the status quo in the social organization of farming, while still increasing yield. To this end he favoured efforts to introduce higher yielding varieties of seeds. Using scientific plant breeding methods to produce homogeneous populations of seed (that is, seed that was all one variety, rather than the mixed populations that were more common in peasant agriculture), the Department would find higher-yielding varieties of rice, and encourage farmers to grow these rather than traditional varieties. Certainly, such new varieties of seed could increase yields, one of the Department's primary goals, but Treub also favoured this approach because he believed that it would be easy for Javanese farmers to adopt without otherwise changing their methods or scale of farming. He argued:
   As difficult as it is to hand them [Native farmers] more 'soesa'
   [trouble] for better, but more time consuming cultivation of soil,
   seeds and plant material, it is easy to get them to give up their
   traditional varieties and exchange them for others, so long as it
   is clearly explained that these, without any more difficulty, will
   yield better and more product. (52)


Treub's interpretation of the Javanese as being deeply conservative drove him to favour a technology which he believed they would accept because it would require little change. In some respects his choice is ironic. High-level policy discussions argued the need for the Javanese to change, while Treub predicated his efforts on the assumption that pragmatically they could not be relied on to do so. The Department would have to sneak in development through the seeds.

It is important to understand that Treub and his successors tended to ignore the very real changes going on in the Indies, assuming indigenous society to be more static than it was. Peter Boomgaard has shown that indigenous farmers changed their practices in important ways during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including, for example, adopting new dry-season crops that had a large impact on the quantity, nature and diversity of the Javanese diet. For the purposes of this article, it is important to understand that despite these very real changes, agricultural officials tended to portray Javanese farmers as stuck in tradition and needing to embrace change, especially by increasing their yields. It may have been the lack of dramatic change in the overall economic fortunes of rural people that caused officials to downplay the consequences of their own work. (53)

In the Indies, where Natives grew food on a small scale and Europeans grew export crops on a large scale, it is clear that Treub's efforts towards development were not an attempt to Europeanise Javanese farmers. Certainly European technical practices in the form of selected varieties would be important, but farmers were not expected to change their own practices or scope of farming to any great degree. Treub was not alone in his thinking. In the years before 1910, Ethical policymakers tended to favour programmes that were easily accessible to the bulk of smallholder farmers, and these projects rarely involved any dramatic change to farms or the social organization of farming. (54) Indeed, when Treub suggested an experimental farm in which European scientists would drive rice agriculture as 'rationally' as possible, critics lambasted the plans as a waste of money that ought to be spent reaching out to ordinary farmers, and coming up with improvements they could readily adopt. (55) The general justification for this was pragmatic. R. A. A. Djajadiningrat argued that since the few large landholders on lava operated through their tenants, the Department needed to focus on small farmers to produce development. (56) This generally conservative approach, which reigned in the Department until the early 1920s, tended to define Javanese farmers as food producers, albeit more productive ones than previously. Economic improvement would come from within the traditional sphere of Native production and culture.

There were those who dissented, however, and their criticisms began to play a larger role in the Department's technological choices in the early 1920s. (57) For this group, encouraging Javanese farmers to become more European was essential to the entire project of development. Agricultural economists, whose discipline was gaining popularity around the world in the 1910s, argued that Javanese farmers could not develop because their ordinary economic practices prevented them from benefiting from increased yield. Economists particularly targeted Javanese use of labour. During a normal rice harvest, a farmer might hire local people, especially women, as labourers and pay them in shares. This practice of paying in kind rather than in cash, lamented economists, tended to depress a farmer's profit (because the level of wage was fixed to the worth of the rice crop in a given year, rather than the value of the help). These economists argued that farmers could only gain economically if they abandoned traditional practices, and began to run farms according to sound capitalist economics, as practised by the most progressive farmers elsewhere in the world. (58)

The economists' suggestions were not limited to labour only, but also included crop choice: farmers needed to select what they would grow based not only on tradition, but on the wax and wane of markets. Growing rice alone was unlikely to be a paying proposition in the long term. One critic gave an explicitly technological and economic spin on the causes of Native backwardness, arguing that 'the backwardness of native society is rooted in the fact that rice agriculture is practiced almost everywhere, in various ways that will never lead to a major industry and in which many hands are kept busy all too easily'. (59) Rather than focus on rice, some critics like J. van Gelderen, an expert in the young field of tropical-colonial economics, argued forcefully that economic development for Natives could only take place if they began to act more like European producers, choosing to grow export crops which would give them a stronger income. For Van Gelderen, Natives could not continue to act like Natives, or within the Native sphere. They had to cross over into the European sphere and become more like (idealized) Europeans.

The Department of Agriculture did incorporate attention to agricultural economics in its approach to Native development, but not to the extent that advocates like Van Gelderen recommended. They did encourage farmers to pay cash wages for labour, and taught the fundamentals of economics in agricultural schools. When it came to export crops, however, the policies were more mixed. While there was an active and successful programme to encourage Native tea-growing cooperatives, sugar planters successfully squashed most efforts to introduce smallholder sugar planting. (60) Making development technological did not resolve the question of whether Natives should become more like Europeans, as the extent of Europeanization, either necessary or desirable, remained contested in the form of the technologies embraced in the name of development.

Conclusion: Identity and development as technology projects

Imaginings of Native identity became increasingly important to government planning for Native welfare throughout the nineteenth century as Dutch policymakers and social critics disputed how economic systems interacted with Javanese culture. While J. van den Bosch and his successors defended the neo-traditional Cultivation System's ability to produce improved conditions in society by appealing in part to perceived cultural limitations of the Javanese (for example, their presumed need for a strong authority figure), other critics saw such characteristics as something that could be educated away under the right circumstances. Both interpretations of Javanese culture were likely inaccurate, yet such assumptions became the focus of policymaking. As policymakers gradually came to a consensus that a flawed culture was at least part of the reason that colonial society did not economically benefit the Javanese, they began to argue that improved welfare would only come from a process which they labelled 'development'.

Because the idea of development was linked to an interpretation of existing Javanese identity as defective or at best backward, it opened up a question that colonial officials and critics never resolved: What would a 'developed' Javanese (or other Native) be like? Who were they developing into? The focus on European ideals in education and European science and technology in economic development should not by itself imply that development meant Europeanization for all historical actors. In this respect development did not differ from earlier welfare debates which revolved around the question of whether the Javanese could--or, more importantly, should--be encouraged to adopt behaviours that colonial officials viewed as definitively European. Officials may have come to a shared understanding of the role of Javanese identity in the colony's economic woes, but they disagreed about who the Native of the future, the 'developed' Native, would be.

The little scholarly attention that technological development in the Netherlands East Indies has received dismisses such projects as merely cynical exercises in self-justification and colonial exploitation that did not produce economic improvement. It is important not to limit analysis of development to these observations, but to investigate the deeper political significance of welfare and development projects in the Indies, especially their technological orientation. Such developments became a new venue for negotiating the crucial and troubling question of the role of the indigenous people in colonial society, and by implication their relationship with Europeans. Decisions about what these roles should be often devolved onto the technical experts who were active in development. Those implementing such projects were designing not only technologies, but also a new colonial category by which people could identify themselves and others: the 'developed' Native. The frequent changes in direction that characterized development work in the Indies reflected the deep disagreements about the extent to which Europeans and Natives ought to be socially or productively integrated in the Indies, in the interest of producing a just and prosperous colonial society. Development made identity a technology project, and technology therefore became an important site of political activity in the twentieth-century Netherlands East Indies.

I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers at JSEAS for their perceptive and helpful comments on the earlier version of this article, as well as my colleagues at the Colorado School of Mines for their support and advice.

(1) A phrase commonly used at the time was 'de ontwikkeling van de inlandsche bevolking' or 'the development of the native people.' The term 'development' used to refer to broad economic change on Java appeared as early as the 1860s in Dutch colonial literature. By the early twentieth century, colonial officials and journalists were also using the term in connection with indigenous society and indigenous agriculture. For more on the nineteenth-century change in the usage of the term 'development', see Raymond Williams, Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society, rev. edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 102-4.

(2) Quoted by H. H. van Kol during his speech on the subject to the Tweede Kamer, 2 June 1904, as reprinted under the title, 'Kamerdebatten over de oprichting van een landbouwdepartement in Nederlandsch-Indie, Het Tijdschrift voor het Binnenlands Bestuur, 1904: 161.

(3) Throughout this article I will capitalize the term 'Native' when I wish to draw attention to its use as a legal category in the Indies, which distinguished indigenous Malays from Chinese and Europeans.

(4) Williams, Keywords, pp. 102-4.

(5) Much later, the 'stages of growth' notion of economic and industrial change would become a central idea in modernization theory and in the international development of the post-World War Two era. See W. W. Rostow, The stages of economic growth: A non-communist manifesto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960).

(6) Michael Adas, Machines as the measure of men: Science, technology and ideologies of Western dominance (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989).

(7) J.S. Furnivall, Netherlands India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1944). For a broader general history of the Netherlands East Indies in the nineteenth century, see M.C. Ricklefs, A history of modern Indonesia since c. 1200 (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2002).

(8) Thomas Stamford Raffles reveals his territorial and imperial ambitions for the East Indies in letters collected in Lady Sophia Raffles, Memoirs of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1991); the quotation is from p. 75.

(9) Furnivall, Netherlands India, pp. 72-3.

(10) Ibid., pp. 76-7. This scepticism was no doubt helped along by the indifferent results of Raffles' policies, which to be fair, he had only about four years to put in place.

(11) Ibid., pp. 92-3.

(12) Ibid., p. 102. Also see a recent biography: B. de Prins, Voor keizer en koning. Leonard du Bus de Gisignies, 1780-1849, Commissaris Generaal van Nederlands-Indie (Amsterdam: Balans, 2002).

(13) Furnivall, Netherlands India, pp. 109-10.

(14) Cornelis Fasseur, Kultuurstelsel en koloniale baten: De Nederlandse exploitatie van Java, 1840-1860 (Leiden: Universitaire Pets, 1978); Peter Boomgaard, Children of the colonial state: Population growth and economic development in Java, 1795-1880 (Amsterdam: Free University Press, Centre for Asian Studies, 1989).

(15) Communication from Baud to P. Merkus, 10 Jan. 1842, no. 11, Archive of the Ministry of the Colonies, Nationaal Archief, The Hague; henceforth archival sources will be cited as 'AMC'.

(16) Fasseur, Kultuurstelsel en koloniale baten, pp. 11-36.

(17) J. S. van den Bosch, 'Hoe men met de Javaan moet omgaan', in Geld en geweten: Een bundel opstelling over en anderhalve eeuw Nederlands bestuur in de Indonesische archipel, ed. C. Fasseur (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1980), p. 54.

(18) Furnivall, Netherlands India, p. 140.

(19) Luc Nagtegaal, Riding the Dutch tiger: The Dutch East Indies Company and the northeast coast of Java, 1680-1743 (Leiden: KITLV Press, 1996), pp. 36-50.

(20) For more on this subject see Tensions of empire: Colonial cultures in a bourgeois world, ed. Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997). For an interesting view of life on a typical sugar holding in the late nineteenth century, see Roger Knight, Narratives of colonialism: Sugar, Java and the Dutch (Commack, NY: Nova Science Publishers, 2000).

(21) While the translation of 'welvaart' should be 'prosperity', it has been rendered 'welfare' in translations and discussions of later works, most prominently the 12-volume Onderzoek naar de mindere welvaart der inlandsche bevolking op lava en Madoera (Batavia: Roygrok, 1904-14).

(22) Fasseur, Kultuurstelsel en koloniale baten, pp. 52-3; Multatuli, Max Havelaar, or, The coffee auctions of the Dutch Trading Company (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982).

(23) Furnivall, Netherlands India, pp. 159-67.

(24) Robert E. Elson, Javanese peasants and the sugar industry: Impact and change in an East lava residency, 1830-1940 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), pp. 127-8.

(25) W. R. van Hoevell, 'De inlandsche hoofden en de bevolking op Java', reprinted in Fasseur, ed., Geld en geweten, pp. 173-83.

(26) Ibid., pp. 177-8.

(27) See for example, N. G. Pierson, Koloniale politiek (Amsterdam: Van Kampen, 1877). The focus on farmers to the exclusion of rural craftsmen like cartwrights, potters and other groups who might have benefited from the Cultivation System's increased demand for their goods, is typical for colonial critics at the time.

(28) Furnivall cites W.J. van Welderen Rengers and J. Kuyper as Conservatives who took a humanitarian stance (Netherlands India, pp. 164-5, 175).

(29) Ibid., pp. 178-80; see also Elson, Javanese peasants, pp. 127-8.

(30) C. T. van Deventer, 'Een ereschuld', De Gids, 63 (1899): 205-57.

(31) H. H. van Kol outlined a programme for the Social Democrats with regard to colonial policy in 'Ontwerp-program voor de Nederlandsche koloniale politiek', Nieuwe Tijd, 6 (1901): 197-220. For his speeches in the Tweede Kamer, see H. H. van Kol, Nederlandsch-Indie in de Staten-Generaal van 1897 tot 1909: Een bijdrage tot de geschiedenis der koloniale politiek in Nederland (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1911).

(32) P. Brooshooft, 'The ethical course in colonial policy', in Indonesia: Selected documents on colonialism and nationalism, 1830-1942, ed. Chr. L. M. Penders (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1977), p. 66.

(33) Ibid., p. 71.

(34) Ibid., p. 69.

(35) Ibid., p. 70-2. For more on paternalism and its use to justify colonial rule, see Adas, Machines as the measure of men, pp. 199-270.

(36) Furnivall, Netherlands India, p. 233.

(37) P. Creutzberg, Het economisch beleid in Nederlandsche-Indie, vol. 1 (Groningen: Wolters-Noordhoff, 1972), p. 173. The report that resulted was the 12-volume Onderzoek naar de mindere welvaart der inlandsche bevolking op Java en Madoera.

(38) His remarks are paraphrased in De Indische Gids, 40, 2 (1918): 1383.

(39) For the development of a technologically sophisticated irrigation service see J. A. A. van Doom, The engineers and the colonial system: Technocratic tendencies in the Dutch East Indies (Rotterdam: Comparative Asian Studies Programme, 1982) and Wim Ravesteijn, De zegenrijke heeren der wateren: Irrigatie en staat op Java, 1832-1942 (Delft: Delft University Press, 1997).

(40) For the history of the Binnenlands Bestuur (the colonial civil service), typical training and activities, see H. W. van den Doel, De stille macht: Het Europese Binnenlands Bestuur op Java en Madoera, 1808-1942 (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 1994); Cornelis Fasseur, De Indologen: Ambtenaren voor de oost (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker, 1994).

(41) See, for example, remarks by Pijnacker Hordijk in 'Kamerdebatten over de oprichting', p. 260.

(42) Stephen J. Lansing, Priests and programmers: Technologies of power in the engineered landscape of Bali (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

(43) Margaret Leidelmeier, Van suikermolen tot grootbedrijf: Technische vernieuwing in de Javasuikerindustrie in de negentiende eeuw (Amsterdam: NEHA, 1997), pp. 113-47.

(44) See, for example, the discussion of Native agriculture in the Onderzoek naar de mindere welvaart, vol. 5, pp. 12-4; Melchior Treub, Schematizsche nota over de oprichting van een agricultuur-departement in Nederlandsch-Indie (Buitenzorg: n.p., 1902); Treub, 'Beredeneerd overzicht der verrichtingen en bemoeiingen met het oog op de praktijk van land-, tuin, en boschbouw, veeteelt, visscherij en aanverwante aangelegenheden', Landbouw: Januari 1906-October 1909 (1910): 27-8. For similar projects elsewhere in the world, see, for example, Zaheer Baber, The science of empire: Scientific knowledge, civilization, and colonial rule in India (Albany: SUNY Press, 1996), pp. 213-20 and Ronald Kline, Consumers in the country: Technology and social change in rural America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). A brief overview of tractorization projects in Soviet Russia is in James Scott, Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).

(45) Treub, Schematische nota.

(46) See the correspondence between Governor General W. Rooseboom and the Minister of the Colonies Idenburg dated 23 May 1904, in Verbaal no. 46, 19 July 1904, AMC.

(47) 'Kamerdebatten over de oprichting', p. 266.

(48) Brooshooft, 'Ethical course', pp. 66-71.

(49) See remarks by Fock in 'Kamerdebatten over de oprichting', pp. 279-80. In the correspondence with Idenburg cited in note 46, Rooseboom is preoccupied with the amount of return that the government will see from proposed development projects.

(50) Creutzberg, Economisch beleid, p. 190.

(51) 'Kamerdebatten over de oprichting'.

(52) Treub, 'Beredeneerd overzicht der verrichtingen', p. 46.

(53) Peter Boomgaard and J. L. van Zanden, Changing economy in Indonesia: A selection of statistical source material from the early 19th century up to 1940, vol. 10 (Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute, 1990), pp. 42-4. James Ferguson has argued that present-day development organizations tend to pay less attention to data that does not meet their preconceived ideas of a 'lesser developed country', and emphasize even quite questionable data that does, in order to justify the technical interventions they are capable of making over more complicated social or political interventions that are outside their purview. It is possible that Treub and others who supported the scientific Department of Agriculture were emphasizing evidence that fitted their tools, and disregarding that which might make their methods seem inappropriate, although such a claim at this point is speculative. James Ferguson, The anti-politics machine: 'Development', depoliticization, and bureaucratic power in Lesotho (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

(54) R. A. A. Achmad Djajadiningrat, 'Her lagere landbouwonderwijs voor inlanders op lava en Madoera', in Onderzoek naar de mindere welvaart der inlandsche bevolking op Java en Madoera, vol. 5b (Bijlagen) (Batavia: Van Dorp, 1908), pp. 1-5.

(55) Correspondence on this issue (including Treub's defense) is found in Verbaal 12 May 1909, no. 8, Governor-General (van Heutz) to Minister of the Colonies (Fock), AMC.

(56) Djajadiningrat, 'Lagere landbouwonderwijs', p. 3; R. A. A. Djajadiningrat, Herinneringen van Pangeran Aria Achmad Djajadiningrat (Batavia?: Kolff-Buning-Balai Poestaka, 1936).

(57) One prominent critic was the Dutch political scientist and economist J. H. Boeke. In his dissertation, Tropische-koloniale staathuishoudkunde: Hetprobleem (Amsterdam: Debussy, 1910), he lays out objections to the general economic assumptions of the improvers. Also see critiques of the Department of Agriculture's efforts by T. J. Lekkerkerker in laarboek van bet landbouw, nijverheid, en handel, 1920 (Batavia: Kolf, 1920), pp. 93-5.

(58) A. M. P. A. Scheltema, 'De ontleding van het inlandsche landbouw bedrijf', Mededeelingen van de Afdeeling Landbouw, vol. 6 (Buitenzorg: Department van Landbouw, 1929); J. van Gelderen, Voorlezingen over her tropisch-koloniale landbouwhuishoudkunde (Haarlem: H. D. Tjeenk Willink, 1927); and G. H. van der Kolff, Bevolkingsrietcultuur in Nederlandsch-Indie: Een landboztweconornische studie (Nijmegen: Thieme, 1925).

(59) Algemeen Landbouw Weekblad, 12 Aug. 1921.

(60) On tea, see T. J. Lekkerkerker, 'Twee inlandsche-theeplanters-associaties in de Preanger-Regentschappen', Bevordering van den inlandschen landbouw door den landbouwvoorlichtingsdienst (Wehevreden: Landsdrukkerij, 1926). On sugar, see the response of sugar planters in Verslag van het algemeen syndicaat van suikerfabrikanten in Ned.-Indie over het 31e jaar, 1925 (Soerabaia: Nijland, 1926), pp. 29-41, and the exchange of secret memoranda condemning smallholder sugar production, dated May through November 1922 in Mailrapport 4066/1922, AMC. Involved in the exchange were the Assistant Resident and Resident of Surabaya, the Director of the Binnenlands Bestuur, and the Director of the Department of Agriculture, Industry, and Trade.

Suzanne Moon is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies at the Colorado School of Mines. She can be contacted at smoon@mines.edu
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