New Message Reply Date view Thread view Subject view Author view Other groups

From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Jan 29 2001 - 10:17:44 EST

By Ida Indawati Khouw

Three hundred years ago, the measure of a man's wealth was not merely by
his property or jewels, but also by the number of slaves he owned. The 72nd
article in our series on Old Batavia looks at the slave trade in the Dutch
colony, when people were handled and sold like cattle in the market.

JAKARTA(JP): Slaves were a luxury commodity, and only the richest citizens
of Batavia could afford them. But those who could, would display their
wealth by having hundreds of slaves.
Although Batavia was known as "the queen of the East" for its beauty, a
more fitting name would have been the "city of slaves".
The city's population was dominated by slaves. Detailed records were kept
of the slave population in Batavia. A 1673 statistic showed that there were
13,278 slaves in Batavia out of a total population of 32,068; and in 1815
it was 14,249 out of 47,217 people. In her monograph Slaves in Batavia:
Insights from a Slave Register in Antony Reid's Slavery, Bondage and
Dependency in Southeast Asia, historian Susan Abeyasekere wrote that the
slave population might have been even larger as population census before
the 20th century was questionable.
The slaves were often tricked or kidnapped by dealers and chieftains from
areas such as Sulawesi and Bali, Abeyasekere wrote. They endured horrendous
conditions on cramped ships before arriving in Batavia to be sold at
market. Those who could not be sold were auctioned.
The Dutch extended the slave trade to other areas of the settlement but
Batavia remained its center.
Old drawings often show slaves holding parasols for their masters or
performing other menial tasks. The slaves are nearly always depicted as
having black skin and wide eyes, the males bare-chested and with a piece of
cloth wrapped around their heads. They appeared physically different from
the indigenous people of the city.
The Dutch did indeed prefer to bring in slaves from outside Java, and for
good reason.
"As there was no free labor available locally, and since the Sundanese and
Javanese were regarded as hostile, the Dutch preferred to bring in slaves
from outside Java to serve as menials," Abeyasekere wrote.
"It was also more advantageous because slaves from distant places and of
diverse origins were unlikely to unite or conspire against their masters."
Slaves from Sulawesi were the highest in number, followed by those from
Bali, Batavia, the Lesser Sundas (Manggarai, Bima, Dompo, Ende, Sumba,
Sumbawa and Timor) as well as Cirebon, Ambon, Padang, Nias and Ternate.
When Batavia was being developed, slaves were used for heavy labor, but by
the early 19th century, slaves were rarely used for heavy work. Even in
estates around Batavia, they were mostly used as domestic servants.


It might surprise many today that some families owned more than 100 slaves,
each with specialized tasks.
For example, a tea maker would not do the cooking or ironing. In
Governor-General Reynier de Klerk's home, which is now the National
Archives in Central Jakarta, his slaves, Ariantje, Juliana and Lesarda were
the lace makers; Camoening and Estrea were the chignon makers; Flora did
the ironing; and Patjar was the socks maker. There was even a slave whose
sole task was to prepare the chili condiment.
Besides doing daily housekeeping chores, some of them were trained as
musicians to entertain guests during parties.
Slave musicians were the height of fashion and European ladies liked to
hire them to accompany them on leisurely boat rides along the canals of
But most slaves had a hard life, and their mortality rate was high. Their
discontent sometimes led to revolt, the very thing the Dutch feared.
"Gangs of slaves sometimes created unrest in Batavia," said V.I. van de
Wall in his paper Slaves in a House of a Governor General.
Some slaves ran away from their masters, the most famous being the
Balinese, Surapati, who founded his own kingdom in East Java in the late
17th century.
Every wealthy home also had cells for the incarceration of slaves who were
defiant or who had tried to escape.
There were also problems among the slaves themselves, with suspicion and
rivalry coloring their relationships. Some slave masters attempted to
overcome this predicament by using slaves from the same region, but it was
no guarantee of peace, van de Wall wrote.
The most beautiful of the female slaves often became victims of sexual
"Balinese and Makassarese men were not favored as slaves as they were
likely to escape or run amok, but their womenfolk were apparently regarded
by the Europeans and Chinese as desirable concubines," Susan said.
Van de Wall said there were also cases of love affairs between European
women and their male slaves.
"The law which required female slaves to be freed if they bore their
master's child served to reduce the number of female slaves and also slave
children born in Batavia," Abeyasekere said.
Slaves were auctioned when their masters died, but the fortunate were freed
if it was willed by the master.
The need for slaves declined by the middle of the 19th century as cheap
labor became available on Batavia's outskirts. The ugly chapter in
Batavia's history effectively ended in 1859 when the Dutch enacted a law
abolishing the practice.

Copyright 2001 The Jakarta Post.
JAKARTA POST 27/01/2001 P8
Stop-traffic mailing list

New Message Reply Date view Thread view Subject view Author view Other groups

This archive was generated by hypermail 2a22 : Mon Jan 29 2001 - 10:33:28 EST