East Sumatra revolution

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The East Sumatra revolution began on 3 March 1946, when several royal families in the region were murdered and sultanates overthrown. The uprising was also linked to ethnic tensions, although this was not the only factor.[citation needed] The East Sumatra revolution shook the social and political traditions of the region, which was formerly ruled by Malay-Muslim sultanates. The primary parties in the revolution were the pro-republican forces who led Pesindo (Pemuda Socialis Indonesia: Socialist Youth of Indonesia), the PNI (Partai Nasional Indonesia: Indonesian Nationalist Party) and the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia: Communist Party of Indonesia). These belligerants had three prime objectives: to eliminate the sultans (who were seen as Dutch allies), to seize the sultans’ wealth (which would fund the Indonesian independence campaign) and to eliminate the region's feudal social structure.[1] The revolution brought about the Negara Sumatera Timur (East Sumatra State), which was dissolved when the region became part of the Indonesian republic.

Violence[edit]

Violence erupted on 3 March 1946 in Deli and Asahan, when thousands of men from a number of ethnic communities attacked the royal palace in Asahan. Although the sultan escaped, most of the aristocratic families were killed and those who survived "...were interned, and their houses plundered by the pemuda".[2]

The trigger was the dissemination of reports that the traditional rulers wanted the Dutch to return and restore their power. The violence was severe, and Republican authorities were unable to control it because several opportunistic political leaders (of whom two PKI Communists, Karim Marah Sutan and Luat Siregar, were the most important) saw the movement as a means to political power.[3] These leaders provoked the participants to kill many aristocrats, attacking houses and killing their occupants.[3]

The greatest violence occurred in Langkat, where palace guards "...were withdrawn after the negotiations between the sultan and the Pemuda of the...(PKI) and...(Pesindo). On 9th March, the palace was attacked and the occupants were taken away. Seven of the princes were beheaded, and the Sultan’s daughters were raped by Pemuda leaders."[4] Almost ninety aristocrats were killed, in addition to many officials from the native states. Property and large tracts of plantation land were appropriated and redistributed to former plantation workers and non-Malay farmers, and many Malay farmers were forced from the plantation land that they acquired under the Dutch.

Several factors have been attributed to the outbreak of violence: the widespread belief that the sultans collaborated with Dutch colonial forces; resentment of the aristocratic class, and tension between ethnic and non-ethnic Malays. The revolution was the outcome of class, ideological and ethnic tensions which had accumulated since the intense economic transformation of the region beginning in the early 20th century.[1]

East Sumatra under the Dutch[edit]

There were four primary sultanates in the region (Langkat, Serdang, Deli and Asahan), with a local ruling class—known as kerajaan—under each sultan. A feudal government was the sultanates' distinguishing trait before (and after) the arrival of the Dutch.[5]

Political changes[edit]

Under Dutch rule, the kingdoms and principalities were absorbed into a centralised political structure. By 1942 much of the administrative power was in the hands of the Dutch, who were accountable to the Netherlands East Indies government in Batavia. Local indigenous elites were included in the administration of the region (which they shared with the Dutch),[6] augmenting the power of the aristocrats.

Economic impact[edit]

The Dutch colonial period changed the region's demographics, political structure and economic system, primarily due to East Sumatra's plantation economy (which made up 64 percent of economic production). To sustain this economy, large numbers of foreign labourers were brought in from China and Java. "In the case of the plantation economy in this region, the foreign labour was predominantly from the relatively overcrowded Java: by the 1930s, 43 percent of the population was 'Javanese'.[7] In addition to the Chinese and Javanese (who numbered about 192,000 and 590,000, respectively, by the 1930s), the economy attracted migrants from other parts of Dutch East Indies; this decreased the percentages of the region's three main indigenous communities: the Malays, Karo Bataks and Simalungun Bataks. Malays made up 18 percent of Deli's population, and 14 percent of Serdang's, in 1939.[8]

Seated raja, surrounded by other men
Simalungun raja with his entourage

Class and society[edit]

The region's changed economic landscape resulted in stark class differences, and the Malay sultans and Simalungun and Karo rajas accumulated significant wealth. "They were now able to grow their rice on the...fallow land that the foreign estates regularly made available as a result of the rhythm of tobacco planting...there was no need to experiment with new forms of cash cropping..."[9] The aristocrats had "...leased wide tracts of land, the disposal rights over which frequently had lain traditionally with the village, to foreign companies...", taking most of the profits.[10]

Anti-sultanate sentiments[edit]

Malay-language newspapers were the main vehicle for anti-sultanate sentiment in East Sumatra. At the turn of the 20th century a newspaper report describing the ruler of Langkat as despotic was circulated in Singapore, indicating the widespread unpopularity of Malay feudal culture. It was also widely believed that not only the Langkat sultan was cruel to the people, but other sultanates (such as Deli and Asahan) did not want to share power with other Malay political associations.[11]

Three men in ceremonial dress
Deli royal family

Violence against Malays[edit]

The violent revolution provided a pretext for the expression of tensions between non-Malays and Malays. Frustration with the Malay ruling families was also felt by the Malay community. For example, a Malay would be assaulted by the Batak and Javanese Pemuda on a tenuous accusation of being pro-aristocrat or an agent provocateur of the Dutch.[12]

Violence against local rajas[edit]

Rajas in the Karo and Simalungun communities were not spared by the revolution. They were seen as impure by their communities because many had intermarried with the Malay royal families.[citation needed]

Pre-1942 political associations[edit]

The influx of immigrants into the region during the 1930s spawned several associations of those connected to the royalty or court officials to preserve Malay cultural identity. These associations were ethnically- and religion-based; although the indigenous population were not exclusively Malay (for example, the Karo and Simalungun communities), the associations emphasised Malay identity and a traditional form of Islam. The Malay had become a minority in a land they regarded as rightfully theirs.[13]

One association created in Medan in 1938 by Dutch-educated Malays was the East Sumatra Association, later led by Tengku Mansur (who was connected to the Asahan royal family). It advocated improving the social status of East Sumatran natives, including the Simalungun and Karo.[14]

Ethnic tensions and divisions[edit]

Although the Karo, Malays, and Simalungun were recognised as indigenous communities in the region, there was tension between the Malays and the other two groups. One division was religion, the Malays were Muslims and the Karo and Simalungun were Christians or animists. The Malays were also resented by the other indigenous communities for their privileges (including plantation land) from the Dutch.

The Javanese, the third-largest group at this time, were perceived by the Malays to have a lower social status than themselves. Known as Abangan, their practice of Islam was seen as nominal. Therefore, in East Sumatra region, Malays had a political and cultural dominance which led to resentment of the Malay aristocratic class and Malays in general.[15]

Economic changes in the region led to the creation of urban centres, which engendered a non-Malay Indonesian culture with organised anti-Dutch opposition groups (including the Sumatran branch of Budi Utomo and Sarekat Islam). In the 1920s, the PKI coordinated an increasingly-radical movement voicing defiance of the Dutch; however, the movement waned after the Dutch banned the Communist Party and imprisoned its leaders.[16]

During the late 1930s a new radical organisation, Gerindo (Indonesian People’s Movement), was formed. Its leaders had been associated with the PKI, PNI, Partindo and the Islamic-modernist Sumatra Thawalib. Gerindo was anticolonial and anti-European; it called for national independence and land reform, which was welcomed by the Javanese, Karo and Toba communities.[16]

Japanese occupation and its effect on nationalism[edit]

The Japanese occupation precipitated the dissemination of nationalist ideas, spawning the revolutionary force known as pemuda (youth). The occupiers gave the locals the experience of self-rule, and thousands of young men received military training guided by Japanese ethics and values. This training fanned their nationalism, motivating them to defend their lands.[17]

Leadership[edit]

Four groups of leaders prominent in the revolution may be distinguished by differences in class, social mobility, nationalist seniority and ideology. An important factor in the revolution's leadership was ethnicity, on which many republican leaders capitalised during conflicts.

Types of leaders[edit]

The first group consisted of those who received a Dutch tertiary education, adopting Western values and practices. Although they were connected to the traditional aristocratic families, they were sympathetic to nationalism. Members of this category were local governors and regional deputy governors Teuku Mohammad Hassan and Mohammad Amir.

Another category of leaders collaborated with the Japanese occupiers as administrative personnel. Involved with the nationalist movement before the Pacific War, they continued their leadership during the post-war period. Other leaders rose to prominence during the occupation in Japanese military organisations, as their military experience imbued them with a deeper commitment to radical nationalism; some became militia leaders early in the revolution.[18]

Pemuda[edit]

The Pemuda consisted of youth who were socially displaced, aggressive and politicized, a tangible manifestation of the struggle for independence struggle. The Pemuda received paramilitary training under the Japanese, and "...were very nationalistic, eager to resist the return of the Dutch, and unsympathetic to the various kerajaan." The Pemuda motto was Merdeka atau Mati ("Independence or death"), and they believed in self-determination, equality, democracy and national unity.[4]

Islamic organizations[edit]

There had been tensions among Muslim reformist forces who advocated an Islam different from the Malay orientation, which threatened the authority of the sultans (regarded as traditional protectors of the religion). The differences between the Islamic reformers and those who supported the Malay royalty had a long history; the former was known as the Kaum Muda and the latter the Kaum Tua. The Kaum Muda "...sought to free the Islamic communities from superstitious beliefs."[19]

Muhammadiah movement[edit]

See also: Masyumi Party

The Muhammadiah movement opposed the Malay aristocracies, where its members opened schools and propagated reformist ideas in the region. There was an ethnic element to the conflict, since the Muhammadiah were primarily from the Minangkabau community, and the aristocracy saw the opposition as pitting the Minangkabau against the Malays. The Muhammadiah were inclined towards nationalism, accentuating tensions with the Malays.

Jamiatul Waslijah[edit]

The Jamiatul Waslijah, another modernist Islamic movement, developed from a debating club in Medan. Although the organisation was not perceived as challenging the authority of the traditional rulers, Jamiatul Wasjliah was pro-nationalist and anti-colonial. Since the Malay aristocratic classes were thought to be pro-colonial, it posed an implicit threat to the sultans.

The nationalist cause received support from Jamiatul Wasjliah and Muhammadiah. The Majlis Islam Tinggi (MIT, Higher Islamic Council) merged with Masjumi (Council of Indonesian Muslim Associations) during the 1946 revolution. With the fall of the sultans, Islam became the chief concern of Masjumi since it was an integral part of Malay identity and culture.[20]

Reaction from rulers[edit]

The revolution amplified differences between the moderates and the radicals, increasing the isolation between the Malay aristocrats and the Malay people and leading the aristocrats to request support from Dutch colonial authorities. Due to the revolution's violence the republican leaders were uncertain they could realise their objective, but liberating the people from injustice would not be achieved under the Dutch.[16]

Popular support[edit]

The republicans received wide support from the local people, especially the non-indigenous, non-Malay segments of society (who felt their interests would be represented). When independence was declared in East Sumatra, it was celebrated by thousands of supporters. The republican government was supported, with calls for the abolition of the sultanates; this support did not wane when the Dutch occupied the region. The Dutch-supported Negara Sumatera Timur (NST, the East Sumatran State) faced opposition.

Negara Sumatra Timur (December 1947–August 1950)[edit]

The Dutch attempted to establish a federal Indonesia consisting of Negara Sumatera Timur and supported by the Malay sultans, since they hoped to regain some power and influence in the region. Tengku Mansur (a member of the Asahan royal family) was chosen as leader, based on his leadership of the East Sumatra Association. Mansur wanted to create an East Sumatra with Malay leadership, but without the region's former feudal structure. However, Mansur’s vision was received coolly by the non-Malay communities and the royal houses. The short-lived state was viewed with suspicion, and "Mansur surrendered authority to the Republic in August 1950."[21]

Opposition to the Indonesian Republic[edit]

Large crowd, holding banners
NST supporters

In addition to Malay support for the reinstatement of Dutch rule, representatives of other groups expressed similar concerns (some Toba leaders and the Chinese community, in particular; these groups had benefited economically from Dutch rule). The Chinese community, who were economically advantaged, were targeted by the Pemuda and their property was seized. In this uncertain milieu, the Chinese community saw the British and Dutch colonial forces as protectors. The threat felt by the Chinese motivated them to co-operate with the Malay aristrocrats, most of the Simalungun rajas, some Karo chieftains and the Dutch in creating the NST.

Aftermath[edit]

Changes in all aspects of East Sumatra were obvious after the revolution; the native states under Dutch colonial rule became part of the Indonesian republic. The greatest changes were in the social order, where Malay privilege ceased and their attachment to the Dutch plantation economy was severed. The military succeeded the Dutch and the Malays as the ruling elite, commanding nearly all aspects of the political and economic spheres: "...the supervision of government and public administration, the maintenance of law and order, and extensive involvement in the regional economy...The military functioned as soldiers, politicians..."[22] After 1950, any political organisation desiring power would need the patronage of the military.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Reid, Anthony (2005). An Indonesian Frontier: Acehnese and Other Histories of Sumatra. Singapore: Singapore University Press. p. 328. ISBN 9971692988. 
  2. ^ Ariffin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 81. ISBN 0195886135. 
  3. ^ a b Kahin, George McTurnan (2003). Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia. New York: : Cornell Southeast Asia Program University Publications. p. 180. ISBN 0877277346. 
  4. ^ a b Ariffin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 64. ISBN 0195886135. 
  5. ^ Poulgrain, Greg (1998). The Genesis of Konfrontasi: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia 1945–1965. Australia: Crawford House Publishing Pty Ltd. p. 26. ISBN 1850655138. 
  6. ^ R. Kahin, Audrey (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. p. 113. ISBN 0824809823. 
  7. ^ Kipp, Rita Smith (1996). Dissociated Identities: Ethnicity, Religion and Class in an Indonesian Society. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 46. ISBN 047208402X. 
  8. ^ Reid, Anthony (1979). The Blood of the People: Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in North Sumatra. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019580399X. 
  9. ^ Reid, Anthony "The Blood of the People: Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in North Sumatra" Oxford University Press, 1979, p47
  10. ^ Kahin, George McTurnan (2003). Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia. New York: Cornell Southeast Asia Program University Publications. p. 179. ISBN 0877277346. 
  11. ^ Milner, Anthony (2011). The Malays. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p. 136. ISBN 1444339036. 
  12. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. p. 124. ISBN 0824809823. 
  13. ^ Ariffin, Omar (1999). Revolusi Indonesia dan Bangsa Melayu: Runtuhnya Kerajaan-Kerajaan Melayu Sumatera Timur Pada Tahun 1946. Pulau Pinang: Koperasi Kedai Buku Universiti Sains Malaysia Sdn Bhd. ISBN 983861193X. 
  14. ^ Reid, Anthony (1979). The Blood of the People: Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in North Sumatra. United States of America: Oxford University Press. p. 68. ISBN 019580399X. 
  15. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. p. 116. ISBN 0824809823. 
  16. ^ a b c Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. p. 117. ISBN 0824809823. 
  17. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. p. 118. ISBN 0824809823. 
  18. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. p. 120. ISBN 0824809823. 
  19. ^ Ariffin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 85. ISBN 0195886135. 
  20. ^ Ariffin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0195886135. 
  21. ^ Milner, Anthony (2011). The Malays. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p. 172. ISBN 9780631172222. 
  22. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States of America: : University of Hawaii Press. p. 135. ISBN 0824809823. 

References[edit]

  • Ariffin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195886135.
  • Ariffin, Omar (1999). Revolusi Indonesia dan Bangsa Melayu: Runtuhnya Kerajaan-Kerajaan Melayu Sumatera Timur Pada Tahun 1946. Pulau Pinang: Koperasi Kedai Buku Universiti Sains Malaysia Sdn Bhd. ISBN 983861193X.
  • Poulgrain, Greg (1998). The Genesis of Konfrontasi: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia 1945–1965. Australia: Crawford House Publishing Pty Ltd. ISBN 1850655138.
  • Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States of America: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0824809823.
  • Kahin, George McTurnan (2003). Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia. New York: Cornell Southeast Asia Program University Publications. pp. 179. ISBN 0877277346.
  • Kipp, Rita Smith (1996). Dissociated Identities: Ethnicity, Religion and Class in an Indonesian Society. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 047208402X.
  • Milner, Anthony (2011). The Malays. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1444339036.
  • Reid, Anthony (2005). An Indonesian Frontier: Acehnese and Other Histories of Sumatra. Singapore: Singapore University Press. ISBN 9971692988.
  • Reid, Anthony (1979). The Blood of the People: Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in North Sumatra. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019580399X.