East Sumatra revolution

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The East Sumatra social revolution began on 3 March 1946, when many sultanates were overthrown and several members of the aristocratic families throughout the twenty-five “native states” were murdered by armed pergerakan groups (Indonesian nationalist).[1] 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.[2] The trigger for the revolution was the dissemination of reports which claimed that traditional rulers and aristocrats were planning for the return of the Dutch. Severe violence was involved, especially in Langkat, whereby seven princes and almost ninety aristocrats were killed, in addition to many officials from the native states.".[3] Furthermore, the Sultan’s daughters were also mistreated by the Pemuda leaders and many Malay farmers were forced to give up the plantation land that they acquired under the Dutch in order to be redistributed for those former plantation workers and non-Malay farmers. The rules and aristocrats were commonly seen as agents of the Dutch and traitors to the revolution. Therefore, anyone found out to be taking the side of the rulers would be regarded as traitors too and they would be dealt with, just as their masters had been.[4] After moving the Republican capital of Sumatra from Medan to Pematang Siantar, the Republican authorities became part of the minority in those occupied areas during the occurrence of social revolution. They had no choice but to suppress their feelings against several opportunistic pergerakan militants (especially Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) Communists: Karim Marah Sutan and Luat Siregar) who saw the movement as one of the means for East Sumatra to be freed from colonial overlordship and to join the larger Indonesian National Revolution.[5] Participants of the revolution were said to be provoked by those leaders to kill aristocrats, attack houses and kill the occupants. These belligerents had three prime objectives: to eliminate the sultans and aristocrats (who were seen as Dutch allies), to seize their wealth (as sources of funding for the Indonesian independence campaign) and to eliminate the region's feudal social structure.[6] The revolution brought about the formation of Negara Sumatera Timur (East Sumatra State), which was dissolved when the region became part of the Indonesian republic.

Agents of the Social Revolution[edit]

Even though the pergerakan (Indonesian nationalist) and aristocrats were directly involved in the social revolution, subsidiary ethnic, religious, and ideological antagonisms that segregated both sides had made the social revolution to be a far more complex and chaotic phenomenon.

Ethnic tensions and Religious divisions[edit]

The influx of Chinese, Javanese and other ethnic immigrants into the region during the 1930s spawned several associations of those connected to the royalty or court officials to preserve Malay cultural identity.[7] Despite the Karo, Malays, and Simalungun were recognised as indigenous communities in the region, the royalty and associations placed great emphasis on preserving the Malay cultural identity and a traditional form of Islam instead of those of the Karo and Simalungun. Special privileges were granted to the Malays (such as accessing to plantation land) by the Dutch colonial powers and the social status of the Malays was much higher than the other indigenous communities in East Sumatra. Consequently, members of the other two indigenous communities felt uneven and that resulted in ethnic tensions between the Malays and the two groups. Another division between the Malays and the two groups was religion, whereby the Malays were mostly Muslims and majority of the Karo and Simalungun were Christians or animists. Despite being the third-largest group in the 1930s, the Javanese, in particular the Abangan, were perceived by the Malays to have a lower social status than themselves and their practice of Islam was seen to be nominal. Hence, the Malays were said to claim dominance in both political and cultural spheres, which led to resentment of the Malay aristocratic class and Malays in general.[8]

Pemuda[edit]

The Pemuda consisted of young Indonesians who received paramilitary training and organization from the Japanese period. Following the disbanding and disarming of Japanese military groups (Giyugun, Heiho and Kenkokutai), many of these Japanese-trained pemuda were recruited into informal organizations such as Badan Oentoek Membantor Pertahanan Asia (Body for Assisting the Defence of Asia / BOMPA) and Persatuan Pemuda Latihan (Trained Youth Association) to defend the Republic. Before the violence took place, these young pemuda were actively propagating what they knew of the Republic in the main towns. They even went on to persuade the senior Indonesian officials to defy the Japanese and the returning Dutch. These pemuda "were very nationalistic, eager to resist the return of the Dutch, and unsympathetic to the various kerajaan." and they were generally socially displaced and believing strongly in self-determination, equality, democracy and national unity.[9]

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.[10]

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),[11] 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'.[12] 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.[13]

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..."[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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]

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.[18]

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.[19]

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.[20]

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."[21]

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.[22]

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.[23]

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."[24]

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 aristocrats, 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..."[25] After 1950, any political organisation desiring power would need the patronage of the military.


See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Said, H. Mohammed (1973). What was the Social Revolution of 1946” in East Sumatra?. Cornell University: Indonesia Southeast Asia Program Publications. pp. 145–186. 
  2. ^ Reid, Anthony (2005). An Indonesian Frontier: Acehnese and Other Histories of Sumatra. Singapore: Singapore University Press. p. 328. 
  3. ^ Arrifin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 64. 
  4. ^ Said, H. Mohammed (1973). What was the Social Revolution of 1946” in East Sumatra?. Cornell University: Indonesia Southeast Asia Program Publications. pp. 145–186. 
  5. ^ Kahin, George McTurnan (2003). Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia. New York: Cornell Southeast Asia Program University Publications. p. 180. 
  6. ^ Reid, Anthony (2005). An Indonesian Frontier: Acehnese and Other Histories of Sumatra. Singapore: Singapore University Press. p. 328. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States: University of Hawaii Press. p. 116. ISBN 0824809823. 
  9. ^ Ariffin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 85. ISBN 0195886135. 
  10. ^ Poulgrain, Greg (1998). The Genesis of Konfrontasi: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia 1945–1965. Australia: Crawford House Publishing. p. 26. ISBN 1850655138. 
  11. ^ R. Kahin, Audrey (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States: University of Hawaii Press. p. 113. ISBN 0824809823. 
  12. ^ Kipp, Rita Smith (1996). Dissociated Identities: Ethnicity, Religion and Class in an Indonesian Society. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 46. ISBN 047208402X. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Reid, Anthony The Blood of the People: Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in North Sumatra Oxford University Press, 1979, p47
  15. ^ Kahin, George McTurnan (2003). Nationalism and Revolution in Indonesia. New York: Cornell Southeast Asia Program University Publications. p. 179. ISBN 0877277346. 
  16. ^ Milner, Anthony (2011). The Malays. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p. 136. ISBN 1444339036. 
  17. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States: University of Hawaii Press. p. 124. ISBN 0824809823. 
  18. ^ Reid, Anthony (1979). The Blood of the People: Revolution and the End of Traditional Rule in North Sumatra. United States: Oxford University Press. p. 68. ISBN 019580399X. 
  19. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States: University of Hawaii Press. p. 118. ISBN 0824809823. 
  20. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States: University of Hawaii Press. p. 120. ISBN 0824809823. 
  21. ^ Ariffin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 85. ISBN 0195886135. 
  22. ^ Ariffin, Omar (1993). Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945–1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 84. ISBN 0195886135. 
  23. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States: University of Hawaii Press. p. 117. ISBN 0824809823. 
  24. ^ Milner, Anthony (2011). The Malays. United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p. 172. ISBN 9780631172222. 
  25. ^ Kahin, Audrey R. (1985). Regional Dynamics of the Indonesian Revolution: Unity From Diversity. United States: : 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 : 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.
  • Langenberg, Michael. van. (1982). Class and Ethnic Conflict in Indonesian's Decolonization Process: A Study of East Sumatra. Indonesia, Apr (33), PP 1-30.