“Max Havelaar”, Indische Vereeniging & “ETHISCHE  POLITIEK”


To many people, both Dutch as well as Indonesian, the book titled “Max Havelaar” is not an unknown. Many people have read it but many more only know about it. The book (a picture of the cover is shown below) was written by Eduard Douwes Dekker under the pseudonym Multatuli (meaning “many sufferings”) published in 1860. A movie with the same title

was produced  in 1976 (by the Dutch) of which a (YouTube) clip is shown below.


From Wikipedia English:  “Multatuli wrote Max Havelaar in protest against these colonial policies, but another goal was to seek rehabilitation for his resignation from governmental service. Despite its terse writing style, it raised the awareness of Europeans living in Europe at the time that the wealth that they enjoyed was the result of suffering in other parts of the world. This awareness eventually formed the motivation for the new Ethical Policy by which the Dutch colonial government attempted to “repay” their debt to their colonial subjects by providing education to some classes of natives, generally members of the elite loyal to the colonial government.

(The) Indonesian novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer argued that by triggering these educational reforms, Max Havelaar was in turn responsible for the nationalist movement that ended Dutch colonialism in Indonesia after 1945, and which was instrumental in the call for decolonization in Africa and elsewhere in the world. Thus, according to Pramoedya, Max Havelaar is “the book that killed colonialism“.[1]

In the last chapter the author announces that he will translate the book “into the few languages I know, and into the many languages I can learn.” In fact, Max Havelaar has been translated into thirty-four languages. It was first translated into English in 1868. In Indonesia, the novel was cited as an inspiration by Sukarno and other early nationalist leaders, such as the author’s Indo (Eurasian) descendant Ernest Douwes Dekker, who had read it in its original Dutch. It was not translated into Indonesian until 1972.[2]

To read the book “MAX HAVELAAR” in English on your computer click here.

A few days ago I found a file that has been hidden for some months in the chaos of my computer. It was a document given by my elder sister to me. This document contained material drafted for further elaboration by a very good friend of us who intends to write a biography on Sam Ratulangie. In this document mention was made about the very early days of the Indische Vereeniging. It showed how those nostalgic Dutch people who once were in Nederlands Indie came together to chit-chat about the time and the memories  they had in Indie. The group consisted not only of Dutch pensionars but later also young people from Indie who came to Holland for study.

Sam Ratulangie (Age 20)
Sam Ratulangie (Age 20)

Among many others, Sam Ratulangie  who arrived in 1913, had to adapt to the new circumstances  and had to concentrate first on trying to obtain the means for a living and also on preparing himself to enter the University of Amsterdam to start his study to become a qualified teacher in mathematics. According to unconfirmed information  he also  worked some time at  Amsterdam’s harbour in his first summer, however upon the end of summer he intensified his efforts in writing small contributions to various media, daily newspapers as well as weekly’s. After joining the Indische Vereeniging apparently due to his writing activities Sam very soon became popular among his coutrymen and in 1914 was elected to become the chairman for the 1914 – 1915 period of the I.V.

Three exiles by the colonial regime (1913)
Three exiles by the colonial regime (1913)                                                                                 Soewardi Soerjaningrat (Ki Hajar Dewantoro), E.F.E. Douwes Dekker (Setiabudi), Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo

Further, in the same year three personalities also arrived in Holland. They were E.F.E. Douwes Dekker (who was a nephew of Eduard Douwes Dekker  and later adopted the name Setiabudi),  Tjipto Mangunkusumo and Suwardi Surjaningrat  alias Ki Hajar Dewantoro   (Wikipedia:   He is the founder of the College: Taman Siswa or  .Student Park, an educational institution that provides an opportunity for indigenous commoners to earn the right to education as well as the aristocracy ) . The trio were exiled by the colonial government to Holland   because of their “revolutionary” activities  among others because of  the criticism expressed  in their writings in  a publication named “Insulinde” and was found to be too provocative. In the Indies namely  an atmosphere of reluctance of the colonial government  to adopt the Ethische  Politiek as instructed by the homeland. As mentioned above  a  sense of bad conscience had come up in Holland  after finding out about the real inhumanity of the Dutch colonial exploitation and corruption that was applied to the people of the Indies. The trio became members of the I.V. and contributed very much to the organization.

Upon advice of Mr. Abendanon who was an advisor to the group the Indische Vereeniging was officially structured and on 25th October 1908 with the presence of 15 “Indiers” a temporary board was established with R. Soetan Casajangan Soripada as Chairman and R. Soemitro as  Secretary, whilst a Committee for further development was also chosen.

The I.V. Board
Members of the Indische Vereeniging (1908)
List of Members
List of Indonesian Members and their Addresses (1908)

NOTE: Most of the pictures in this posting are scanned from the book: “IN HET LAND VAN DE OVERHEERSER I” (In the country of the oppressor), by H.A. Poeze et. al. KITLV 1986. ( There is an Indonesian translation 2002) :

In het land v/d overheersers
In the oppressors country                                                (In het land v/d overheersers)

For Sam Ratulangie  the casual and uninhibited atmosphere among “oppressors” and “the oppressed” at the Indische Vereeniging was mostly reviving. Namely, years before, after finishing his technical education, when he began his career as a technician at the State Railway in a town in West Java he had to face a bitter humiliation. It was hard to accept for a young man who always proofed to be among the best at school  to suddenly be treated as unworthy living at the same hostel as his ex-schoolmates because of his skin color. He was not allowed to stay at the hostel as his colleagues, but had to find himself a living quarter somewhere in the kampung. This painful experience of racial discrimination had a profound effect on Sam Ratulangie’s further life. However as with many other creative persons this traumatic happening was turned by Sam into a most enriching encounters with the local population of the desa where he found his quarter. Among others he came to meet the people who were actively engaged in the Sarekat Islam and was briefed about their motivations and their objectives. These observations were boiled down in a document that he later published at a publisher in Baarn Holland titled “Serikat Islam“.

Whilst the 1913 world was (of course) different as the 2013 one, certain similarities show up to me…… The PANTA RHEI principe applies and ” All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things flows like a stream.”

I remember the words of Sam Ratulangie at the end of the Introduction of a book he intended to publish: “Indonesia dalam gelora internasional” (1949) :  ” ….. but each power system contains elements for distruction and anihilation of it selves. The same is valid for each colonial system although steered with pure slogans that however are only abstract. That is the irrational process, the process of correction by justice. It is as if The Almighty intends to correct its errors using human capacity without their own awareness ….”

The original text in (old) Indonesian language:

 “…..  akan tetapi tiap-tiap susunan kekuasaan mengandung unsur-unsur untuk menghantjurkan dan memusnahkan diri sendiri. Demikian djuga susunan djadjahan jang dikendalikan dengan sembojan– sembojan jang murni akan tetapi jang hanja maja belaka. Hal tersebut ialah proses jang gaib, proses dari pembetulan dari keadilan. Seolah-olah dengan proses itu Pengendali Alam bermaksud membetulkan kechilafan-kechilafan dengan mempergunakan tenaga manusia, akan tetapi diluar kesadaran penglaksana insani sendiri……” (masih dengan ejaan lama karena ditulis ditahun 1949).

Dengan terjadinya ketegangan2 diintern negara2 Eropa, sedangkan diujung Timur pun antara Rusia dan Jepang yang berperang dengan menghasilkankemenangan bagi Jepang, dan di negeri Tiongkok dinasti Ching mengalami kehancuran maka jelaslah bahwa saat2 itu terjadi satu perubahan tata susun diberbagai bagian belahan dunia. Perubahan2 ini disertai timbul tenggelamnya  aliran2 politik. Hal2 ini dengan ramainya didiskusikan di Indische Vereeniging, pemikiran2 baru seperti yang dijabarkan oleh Rabindranath Tagore mendapat perhatian yang cukup besar diantara anggauta I.V. Sedangkan bacaan2 seperti tulisan Rudyard Kippling, Multatuli  maupun Lenin dan Marx ditelaah dan didiskusikan. (Sorry for the regression to the  Indonesian language above. This is corrected below.)

At that time tensions were mounting among the nations of EUROPE, whilst way up to the north eastern side Russia and Japan were warring, leaving Russia as the looser, whilst in the Kingdom of the Middle the Ching dynasty was destroyed. It was clear that there was (to be) a distinct change in the structure of many parts of the world. These changes brought with them (if not, they were caused by) a raise and fall of political ideologies. All about these developments were intensively discussed at the Indische Vereeniging. Also about the literary contributions of Rabindranath Tagore, Rudyard Kipling, Multatuli as well of Karl Marx and Lenin.

As a repercussion towards all these new inputs a discussion was organised by the I.V. for their members and also other interested individuals in the Hague late 1917 with the theme : “COLONIALISM; benevolance or crime?”, (“Kolonialisme, Berkat atau Kejahatan?) . On an interview much later  in the 1960’s, with Mr. Jonkman who in 1917 as student was also present at the discussion,  there was a report in which the latter mentioned smilingly: “We were all so very idealistic at the time, and imbued by the theory of the “ethical policy” and so convinced that the Dutch prescence in Indonesia was the most enlightened and benevolent kind of government possible ”

After hearing the many contributions, it was apparent that the meeting would favor the idea of colonialism to be a blessing for those poor “suckers” in the Indies. Until Sam Ratulangie stood up, filled with impatience, he said in a loud voice: “Colonialism is a CRIME! It is the greatest crime against humanity!” These words came as a thunder on broad daylight and caused turmoil and shouting all over the room…it jeopardized the whole meeting which was closed in a hurry. This affair was named THE HAGUE FURORE and was not forgotten long after that , but  it was also not without penalties for Sam Ratulangie. The University of Amsterdam, after it was being informed of the happening, decided that such rebellious expressions of its students could not be tolerated  by the University. It was Mr. Abendanon who took Sam Ratulangie aside and delivered the message, but understandingly, he also gave Sam the advice better  to finish his doctorate (which was nearly completed by then) at a university in Switzerland. This country was able to maintain its neutrality in that stressful period in Europe and Mr. Abendanon was sure that Sam might find a welcome at one of its universities, and that was what actually happened.


 It might have been in the late 1970’s that my mother, who at that time lived in a small house in southern Jakarta, was being visited by a Dutch lady. That was what she told me, and I scarcely made any notion of what she said. ” Yes,” my mother continued, “it was Mevrouw Jonkman.” Now I remember that name as it was often mentioned at lunch, when I was a kid and we sat with the whole family, plus the few relatives nieces and nephew who were boarding in our house, sent by their parents to get a better education in Batavia, than they could have at home in Manado. “And?” I asked , because my mother looked at me with an expression that she was not yet finished with her story. “Mevrouw Jonkman brought a book for me as a present, because that was what her husband had told her to do before he passed away….” The  book was about Mr.J. A. Jonkman, sort of Memoirs….. And her husband had asked her whenever she goes to Indonesia, she should visit Sam Ratulangie’s widow to give her a copy of this book. “….because Mr. Jonkman had always respected Sam Ratulangie, both at the time of study as well as later, although they were standing as opponents towards each other in their professional career…..”


Work in Progress