Minggu, 11 Januari 2015

Globalization gave birth to coolies in the Priangan Land

Ahmad Nashih Luthfi

Globalization in the Priangan Land emerged via the coffee planting policy. The lowest level of the global commodification chains that supplied the half of coffee demands then in the world, Prof. Breman indicates, was where those coffee producers, i.e. Pasundan cultivators who had run through successive transformations, from a status of cultivators and landowners at various levels they turned to be selling merely their labor to coffee plantations. They transformed into non obligatory labor workers or coolies.

Colonialism and Historiography
    Globalization proceeding within the history of Priangan effectuated dramatic agrarian changes: the whole order including land, production relation (power), profits and labor was enclosured to the operation of a new (economico-political) system named colonialism. The coffee cultivation was run through forced horticulture, forced labor, population mobilization and changes in land uses, up to obligatory submission of harvested coffee grains, and all the operation introduced misery into Priangan people life. The colonial economy that began since the presence of the trading company named VOC in XVIII century until the end of the Forced Labor era produced a collies society. In its turn, the system was the sign of the beginning of a new phase of economy, i.e. liberal economy. The incoming of plantation enterprises involved those transformed people into a force of helpless and low cost labors.
    Colonialism provided vast areas of plantation for capitalism. That is what I can infer from the work of Prof. Jan Breman: Keuntungan Kolonial dari Kerja Paksa, Sistem Priangan dari Tanam Paksa Kopi di Jawa, 1720-1870. His work contributes importantly to the historiography of the social and politico-economical Indonesia, that is a critical history inviting the rewriting of the colonialist history in Indonesia. The rewriting has to be realized by putting global economy as a context of the making and implementation of colonial policies, and by showing the conditions of people those days who had to experience the impacts of the policies.
    Therefore, Prof. Breman in his work is historiographically within the discourse of sub-altern historiography, indicatively shows convincingly the micro pessimism (violence against the population’s humanity) of the coffee forced cultivation policy, and the capacity of the population to resist in the way of Scottian; he is not otherwise giving an optimistic picture of an etatistic perspective (colonial economic growth). He challenges the existing dominant historiography glorifying that “kultuur-stelsel” policy or the forced cultivation system yielded enormous bulk of profits to the Netherlands economy, and provided an economic breakthrough for local people to breach their economic dead end and simultaneously ameliorated their economic well being.

Interrogating Sources
Prof. Breman utilized official sources written by Dutch officials in the period between the end of the VOC and the edge of the forced cultivation era. But, he managed to evade the “colonial apologetics”. His reading archives and official documents was done by “interrogating” those sources, detecting policy “cracks” and its effects to Priangan people, extracting dissent voices that could be found smartly within other sources contradicting the dominant discourses. Testimonies written by colonial ministers or general governors may be confirmed or confronted by testimonies of resident-assistants, coffee cultivation supervisors, cultivation directors and archive officials.

Peasant Resistance
    Prof. Breman indicates that various resistance forms such as “stealing, sabotage, and different other forms of disobedience” finally caused the coffee plantation system’s failure (p. 284). That contention is the main thesis of the book. In the epilogue, he reaffirms that “The inference of my treatise shows that the “kultuur stelsel” dismantled not by any external action, despite the excessive use of violence, but by disabling actions from inside and from below. The mass of labor workers on the Sunda highlands objected to continue to give what was asked from them ruthlessly: increasing amounts coffee grains to give up to capitalists” (p. 355).
    The resistance was produced within the chains of the forced cultivation process: in the transportations of young coffee plants unto the Priangan highlands, soil and plants maintenance, harvest process, grains processing and piling up. There was thus no other policy consideration that made the forced cultivation policy dismissed. Agricultural workers pulled off young coffee plants, abandoned them for a while to see them die, worked idly, ploughed the soil to damage the plants, cut the branches carelessly, harvested the grains lousily, threw the grains into canals or mountain pits. The results were that hundred thousands of coffee plants died, production rate decreased dramatically, profits deflated for the colonial government.
    Fleeing away was an act too risky for agricultural labor workers, for they might be caught anytime by colonial goons and face a lethal punishment. They did not do an open resistance, for they were under a power structure too omnipotent in enclosing and oppressing them: workers populations were allowed only to have a mobility between their settlement areas and plantation sites, people were forbidden to go in and out of the village, any activity outside coffee works had to get a permit from the village chief. Violence had been incorporated and spatialized. Such a covert resistance was a “rational response” from agricultural workers against the structural restriction suppressing them. Coffee was not their future economy for it operated without any promising “economic rationality”. Coffee was produced in a “forced cultivation” system, where production relations went exploitatively. Their resistance was reasonable, comparable to those “Zealand farmers who were obliged to give up a half, a quarter or a tenth of their harvest value”, that is how Breman quotes the rhetoric of Muntinghe (p. 136, 347).
    Prof. Breman’s thesis contradicts the dominant perspective of today, written by either Indonesian and foreign historians, that the forced cultivation era ended for the state owned enterprises ran slowly and inefficiently, so that it had to shift to private enterprises sector. We witnessed there that liberal ideas were voiced in the parliament. The subsequent argument of that perspective was rather a result of a political process than a result of a benign consideration of the Dutch India’s people prosperity, and contains critical voices that showed ruthlessness and horror experienced by oppressed people. Those voices were given an important consideration by the ruling authority. But humanity consideration was not primary, for the main calculation remained over the facts that the current economic system was not profitable anymore, and some correction was needed for fixing the system.

Colonial Inventions: village, elite functions, and land
    In this work, Prof. Breman reaffirms certain inferences written in previous publications on village, elite, and land in Java. There are products of the past which we have to reevaluate for they were actually “colonial constructions”: Javanese villages with their entire “territory” and power “hierarchic structure”. The construction process went this way. For facilitating control over lands and mobilization of labor forces that consisted of shifting cultivators, those cultivators had to be “bound to some work on a certain permanent land”. Rice field making was not merely a technical matter of planting rice and assuring its irrigation, but also a strategy to make a labor force settle. “Sedentarization was a strategy deployed by rulers in Priangan in order to strengthen their grip over those farmer populations” (p. 32). Farmers settlement prevented their moving, and rice farming made easier the agricultural surplus confiscation and bound them as subjects to their masters (p. 33). The VOC’s authority gave a full rein to higher and lower lords to control and mobilize their people to have a forced harvest. It is true that traditional hierarchical relationship had been known in pre colonial era, but colonialism assigned new functions to it and corroborated it for coffee production interest.   
     Javanese villages were agglomerated and its population settlement had a well ordered functions. They were made that way in the era of Preanger-stelsel. Village as a homogenous collectivity and land property system were strengthened and in case constructed. It was in the Priangan Land that the lords and monarchic family membership were involved strictly by the colonial government in the process of land communalization, labor force mobilization and hierarchic empowerment.
    The lands went through the similar process. Through the forced cultivation system, Javanese villages were made bases for coffee production. Cultivators’ control over their lands which were individually owned gradually dismembered when those lands had obligatorily to be used for forced cultivation, or when those lands had to be abandoned for the labor forces had to involve within the expansion of coffee plantations on the highlands. In turn, those lands were sanctioned to become “state domains”, and rights on those lands were given to plantation companies in the era post Agrarische Wet 1870.

    Priangan Land extended from Cianjur, Bandung, Sumedang, Sukapura, Limbangan and parts of Cirebon was imagined in a “Mooie Indie” manner by romantic painters. Bandung city until the mid XX century was surnamed “Paris van Java”, and grew as a shopping center colonial city comparable to Singapore today. Behind that colonial imagination curtain, we witness a natural resources extraction and human exploitation. Who would remember that fact?
    Prof. Breman is not writing a past history that does not continue in space and time. But as a desired historic work, his on the Priangan system in the West Java “frontiers” reminds us about colonialist production mode that produced enormous social and ecological disadvantages. In the past, that production mode was present in the name of “natural and labor productivities”, today it hides behind the veil of “developmental extension” for food and energy run by “foreign and domestic investments” via globalizing processes. Those frontier areas opened or dismantled extend along the geographical space of Nusantara (Merauke, Kutai, Kendari, Ketapang, Riau, Jambi, etc.), with various global commodities available (nickel, gold, charcoal, palm oil, timber, etc.). Do we have to witness a history in its making where our population will become (and is becoming) free workers or coolies?
    In this political year 2014, we may hope that leadership of this country may have public consciousness for safeguarding sovereignty and self-respect of Indonesia Raya, “Save its lands, save its sons, its islands, its waters, all. Be advanced the country, be advanced its leadership, for the Indonesia Raya.” (March, 26 2014).


Another review, Republika 28-03-2014, Hawe Setiawan ulas Jan Breman

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