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Extremes in the Archipelago: Trade and Economic Development in the Outer Islands of Indonesia, 1900-1942, Jeroen Touwen

Leiden: KITLV Press, 2001, 459 p.
Reed L. Wadley
p. 167-169
Référence(s) :

Jeroen Touwen, Extremes in the Archipelago: Trade and Economic Development in the Outer Islands of Indonesia, 1900-1942, Leiden: KITLV Press, 2001, 459 p.

Texte intégral

1Extremes in the Archipelago is not an easy read, but it is a highly detailed and useful one, and will no doubt serve as a primary reference in future work on the economic history of Indonesia’s so-called Outer Islands (i.e., all those islands besides Java). With a focus on the development of export trade and its economic effects during the late Dutch colonial period, the book examines the differences among the Outer Islands in their integration with the world economy. (While one might quibble over the value of perpetuating the excessively Java-centric “Outer Islands” category, that is certainly the way Dutch colonial officialdom conceptualized and reported on things.) In the introductory chapter, Touwen outlines the historiographic and theoretical background of the book, pointing out, for instance, the importance of examining critically the notion of economic dualism (i.e., the purported differences between largely European estate enterprises and indigenous smallholder efforts to compete in export crops).

2In Chapter 2, the author concentrates on how to cluster the islands in order to make comparison more fruitful, given the wide differences between them (e.g., eastern Sumatra with its extensive estates and oil production versus New Guinea with its difficult, isolating terrain). His criteria logically revolve around the nature of the export economy: Cluster I (consisting of East Sumatra, Southeast Kalimantan, and Palembang) had substantial European and indigenous export production; Cluster II (West Sumatra, Aceh, Jambi, Lampung, West Kalimantan, Manado, and South Sulawesi), strong indigenous but weak European export production; Cluster III (Bangka, Belitung, and Riau), low export performance by indigenous producers but strong performance by Europeans; and Cluster IV (Tapanuli, Bengkulu, Maluku, Bali, Timor, and New Guinea), both weak indigenous and European export production.

3There is much to recommend to this clustering, though one does find Touwen’s summaries of each province to be somewhat overgeneralized. For example, on West Kalimantan, he asserts, “The indigenous groups, spread throughout the inland forest, occasionally had traditional tribal feuds, but did not cause the colonial government any serious problems” (p. 83). This might suggest to a naive reader that Dayak peoples did not live in (actually adjacent to) forests of their own making (i.e., agroforests), and that their conflicts were not occasionally the result of colonial policies. For example, widespread rebellions with millenarian tones in the Ketungau basin between 1908 and 1916 had more to do with high taxes imposed by Malay overlords kept in power by Dutch policy; if these had been little other than “traditional feuds,” the provincial authorities would likely not have sent in the colonial military to suppress them. Readers will no doubt find other such overly broad generalizations in the summaries of their own favorite provinces.

4Chapter 3 concerns the expansion of the European export-oriented activities with an emphasis on estate agriculture and mining industries, as well as their effects on the local economy. The focus here is on East Sumatran-dominated estate agriculture, petroleum and coal production in Sumatra and Kalimantan, tin mining on Bangka and Belitung, infrastructural development (e.g., roads and railways) generally around points of concentration of European enterprises, the influx of capital imports where European production had expanded, and the explosion of large-scale labor migration. Chapter 4 examines foreign and interregional exports from areas with substantial indigenous export production (i.e., Clusters I and II). Touwen shows the dynamic quality of this production, its flexibility in cash-crop cultivation, and its response to overseas market opportunities and the abrupt changes brought by the Great Depression. Here, export-oriented crops like coffee, pepper, rubber, and copra form the focus, with attention given to colonial policies that affected smallholder production (e.g., the rubber restriction), the mentality of smallholders, and the Chinese-dominated trade and credit networks that fed on and facilitated native export production.

5The focus of Chapter 5 is on the areas peripheral to the expanding export economy (i.e., Cluster IV). Here, Touwen asks how bleak the economic picture in these places really was as colonial officials tended to complain about economic stagnation, and he demonstrates a good deal of variation. The Sumatran provinces of Tapanuli and Bengkulu were advantaged, for example, by their relative proximity to areas of expansion in East Sumatra and Palembang, while most areas of eastern Indonesia were disadvantaged in their isolation from such centers of growth. Then, in Chapter 6, Touwen discusses colonial economic policy and the profound effect that the Ethical Policy had on policy direction. He points out the conflict that officials met with in trying to balance competing interests—strong European company lobbies, a concern for expanding basic subsistence production, and smallholder concerns for autonomy and fair trade in the face of official ambivalence. This chapter is particularly interesting because the policies and supporting bureaucracies (e.g., agricultural extension) became those of independent Indonesia. The seventh and last chapter provides a clear summary of the main findings and analyses, with some attention to how the dynamics of this period contributed to the emerging post-WWII national economy.

6Touwen also provides four useful appendices, the first being a summary of his methods to reconstruct population figures, which was necessary given the widely varying quality of colonial census data. Tables summarize the data on various populations, such as indigenous people, Chinese, European, and urban, and he is careful to note deficiencies in the data. The second appendix outlines his procedure to computerize the various statistics on trade, which sometimes used different systems of calculating imported and exported goods. In the third appendix, Touwen specifies the procedure for comparing commodity prices over time adjusted for inflation, and the fourth appendix provides tables and figures of statistics related to the content of the book; these range from general foreign trade statistics to reconstructed tin prices.

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Référence papier

Reed L. Wadley, « Extremes in the Archipelago: Trade and Economic Development in the Outer Islands of Indonesia, 1900-1942, Jeroen Touwen »Moussons, 6 | 2002, 167-169.

Référence électronique

Reed L. Wadley, « Extremes in the Archipelago: Trade and Economic Development in the Outer Islands of Indonesia, 1900-1942, Jeroen Touwen »Moussons [En ligne], 6 | 2002, mis en ligne le 19 décembre 2013, consulté le 03 juin 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Reed L. Wadley

Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri-Columbia, USA.

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